KFC China Attempting to Predict Customers’ Orders with Facial Recognition

A self-ordering machine outside a KFC restaurant. Photo: © Zhang Peng / Getty Images

Would you like fries with that? KFC hopes it may already know the answer. The fast food chicken chain has just started testing its first “smart” restaurant in Beijing where, upon entry, patrons can be identified using facial recognition software.

Whether the idea is as creepy as something out of 1984 or as charming as going to a bar where everybody knows your name is certainly up for debate; however, before you reach full freak-out, it’s important to know that, for now, this “smart” technology appears to primarily just be a parlor trick. First, you have to actually approach the machine; this isn’t some camera in the sky that scans your retinas as soon as you walk in the door. From there, the “facial recognition” is more akin to something you’d see on some cheesy website: an attempt to identify your gender, age and mood. Once that information is obtained (to varying degrees of accuracy), the machine takes into account the time of day before recommending an order.

“A male customer in his early 20s” would be offered “a set meal of crispy chicken hamburger, roasted chicken wings and coke”, while “a female customer in her 50s” would get a recommendation of “porridge and soybean milk for breakfast,” a press release stated, according to The Guardian. I know… It suddenly doesn’t sound so exciting, does it?

Eventually, KFC and its partner in the project Baidu (kind of the Chinese equivalent of Google) hope that the machines could get a bit more high-tech – personalizing the ordering experience by recognizing individuals and then making recommendations based on what they’ve had in the past. However, a Guardian reporter who tested out the system found that, for now, after multiple visits “though [the machine] reads the same characteristics from my face it doesn’t remember my preferences.”

But regardless of just how cool and/or effective this technology is at the moment, KFC China sounds committed to moving forward with it. The Guardian reports that the fast food company is planning to expand the facial recognition machines to 5,000 stores across the country. Who knows: With a reach like that, maybe one day the machines will become so smart they can even start to question your eating habits?

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