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Artificial Intelligence in Fast Food Restaurants in China

My report card at the end of my first grade of school indicated, “David reads widely and understandingly.” I have had more than 75 additional years of experience at that activity, and it is a very pleasurable part of my life. Recently I read a short article that I want to share with you, How A.I. Ate the Colonel (Chang, 3/28/2019).

China is in the process of implementing  a facial recognition system that contains every person in China. The system is now good enough to be widely used, both for surveillance purposes and for everyday transactions in stores. Here is a quote from Chang’s article:

In Shanghai’s southeastern district of Xujiahui [China], Colonel Sander’s smiling visage looms over the restaurant entrance, as it does at thousands of KFC locations around the globe. But step inside, and it quickly becomes clear that this is no ordinary KFC.

Customers line up before a row of touchscreen kiosks, keying in orders while a camera scans their faces to process payment in less than a second. Downstairs, a robot arm whirs to life to prepare an ice cream cone. Diners can choose the joint’s background music via app and listen to a favorite tune while they eat.

So far only a few hundred KFC locations have been similarly tricked out. But Yum China Holdings Inc. says 86 percent of transactions are already cashless and about half of orders are placed via mobile app or digital kiosk at its more than 8,400 KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell restaurants. The next step is to harvest data from the more than 180 million Chinese who belong to KFC and Pizza Hut loyalty programs and use artificial intelligence to customize a menu for each diner based on preferences and local tastes.

Yum China Holdings, Inc. mentioned above is a very large company (Wikipedia, 2019, link):

Yum China Holdings Inc. is an American Fortune 500 fast-food restaurant company incorporated in the United States and is headquartered in Shanghai, China. With US$6.8 billion of revenue in 2016 and over 7,600 restaurants, it is one of the largest restaurant companies in China. Spun off from Yum! Brands in 2016, it became an independent, publicly traded company on November 1, 2016. It operates 8,484 restaurants over 1,100 cities and towns spanning every province and autonomous region across Mainland China, and has a workforce of 450,000 employees.

This situation reminded me of the bank ATM machines that I regularly use to deposit checks and withdraw cash. I do not interact with a human teller. I have to do some of the work myself, and a machine does the rest.

Recently, in preparing my income tax returns, I found I was missing some needed information. Retrieving the information required considerable personal effort on my part, working using my phone and computer. It also involved working with human beings, when the automated systems were not able to fully answer my questions. I noticed that the voice recognition computer systems are becoming better and the overall human-computer interfaces are improving.

This, in turn, reminded me of being in a store in Arizona just a little over a week ago. As you enter the store, you encounter a  rack of small handheld scanners. You take a grocery cart and a scanner, scan a label on each item you want to purchase, and put the item in your cart. When you have finished shopping, you proceed to the automated checkout system. Your handheld scanner provides information to the checkout system. The checkout system gets credit card information from you. You bag your own purchases and leave the store. (Eventually, face recognition will handle the process of identifying you and you won’t even have to put in credit card information.)

Final Remarks

The uses of AI and automation described above decrease the personnel costs in stores and provide the stores with detailed information about who, what, and when for each purchase made using the system.

Over time, such systems will become more user friendly and more widely used. They will become a routine part of our everyday lives. Obviously, they will have an effect on employment.

In addition, Big Brother and others will be tracking more and more everyday activities of more and more people.

What You Can Do

Adults and children need to learn the capabilities, limitations, and dangers of the types of technology discussed in this IAE Blog. Each step of  “progress” in these areas of technology provides something for people to be concerned about, something for people to learn about, and also an opportunity to practice learning. By taking the time to read and think about this article, you have demonstrated the knowledge and skills of a lifelong learner. Keep up the good work!

References and Resources

Chang, R. (3/25/2019). How A.I. ate the colonel. Bloomberg Businessweek, pp 16-17.

Moursund, D. (3/15/2019). Digital transformation in for-profit businesses and in public schools. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 4/6/2019 from Moursund, D. (2018). The fourth R (Second Edition). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 4/6/2019 from Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from Download the Spanish edition from

Moursund, D. (3/15/2018). Learning 24 hours a day. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 4/6/2019 from

Wikipedia (2019). Yum China. Retrieved 4/6/2019 from

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Friday, 15 January 2021

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