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McDonald’s, Meet McPathogens

What happens when the drive to automate everything meets the Law of Unintended Consequences?

Fast food franchises are moving towards elimination of employees in favor of AI. Many McDonald’s now have self-order touch screen kiosks. There is no need to talk to anybody. Walk in, poke in your order on the kiosk screen, stick in your credit card, and get your receipt with a number on it.

When your number is displayed, pick up your food and eat. No one has exchanged a word. The first time you need to open your mouth is to insert your Big Mac.

I have a wager with a good friend that the self-order touch screen kiosks at McDonald’s will not last. The kiosks not only take longer to use, but are annoying. The idea of the kiosk may sound good on paper, but is a hassle in practice.

During my last McDonald’s visit, an employee intercepted my trip to the conventional counter for placing food orders. She asked if she could show me how the new kiosk touch screens work. That was her job: teaching the reluctant and the untechnical how to program a touch screen to get their McNuggets. I already knew but complied because I did not want to seem rude. As she punched in my order, I told her I found the kiosks to be inconvenient and annoying. Her shoulders slumped. She sighed, looked me in the eye, and confessed “Everybody does.”

One never knows why things will fail. I still think the failure of McDonald’s touch-screen kiosks will be mostly due to annoyance. It’s so much easier to order my Egg McMuffin and black coffee from a human behind the counter than to poke my index finger through a decision tree on the self-order kiosk.

In any event, many failures are due to unforeseen events. The invading Martians in H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds were technically superior to Earthlings. Earth fought back but it looked like humanity was doomed. Unexpectedly, the Martians were killed by an onslaught of earthly pathogens. Who would have guessed?

Similarly, I may win my wager about McDonald’s touch screens for a completely unexpected reason. The Blaze reports on the outcome of an analysis of swab wipes from touch screens, taken from eight McDonald’s locations in England. Dr. Paul Matawele of London Metropolitan University’s Microbiology department reported:

“We were all surprised how much gut and fecal bacteria there was on the touch-screen machines. These cause the kind of infections that people pick up in hospitals.” Sarah Taylor, “Disturbing investigation reveals McDonald’s customers may endanger their health using touch screens” at The Blaze

The pathogens included potentially fatal Staphylococcus (the dreaded “Staph” infection that closes hospital wards). Staph is also becoming antibiotic resistant.

I now have another reason to not to use McDonald’s kiosks.

Pathogens helped Earth beat the Martians. They may likewise help me to win my McDonald’s kiosk bet.

Robert J. Marks II, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Baylor University.  Marks is the founding Director of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence and hosts the podcast Mind Matters. He is the Editor-in-Chief of BIO-Complexity and the former Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks. He served as the first President of the IEEE Neural Networks Council, now the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society. He is a Fellow of the IEEE and a Fellow of the Optical Society of America. His latest book is Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics coauthored with William Dembski and Winston Ewert. A Christian, Marks served for 17 years as the faculty advisor for CRU at the University of Washington and currently is a faculty advisor at Baylor University for the student groups the American Scientific Affiliation and Oso Logos, a Christian apologetics group.
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McDonald’s, Meet McPathogens