philip lelyveld The world of entertainment technology


Would you like fries with that? McDonald’s already knows the answer

MCDONALDS TECH 4BSMcDonald’s has a new plan to sell more Big Macs: act like Big Tech.

Over the last seven months, McDonald’s has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire technology companies that specialize in artificial intelligence and machine learning. And the fast-food chain has even established a new tech hub in the heart of Silicon Valley — the McD Tech Labs — where a team of engineers and data scientists is working on voice-recognition software.

The goal? To turn McDonald’s, a chain better known for supersized portions than for supercomputers, into a saltier, greasier version of Amazon.

At some drive-thrus, McDonald’s has tested technology that can recognize license-plate numbers, allowing the company to tailor a list of suggested purchases to a customer’s previous orders, as long as the person agrees to sign away the data.

In March, McDonald’s spent more than $300 million to buy Dynamic Yield, the Tel Aviv-based company that developed the artificial intelligence tools now used at thousands of McDonald’s drive-thrus.

The deal “has changed the way the high-tech industry thinks about potential M&A,” said Liad Agmon, a former Israeli intelligence official who co-founded Dynamic Yield. “We’ll see more nontraditional tech companies buying tech companies as an accelerator for their digital efforts. It was genius on McDonald’s side.”

McDonald’s insists that the rollout of the voice technology will not cost jobs. But at a time when it faces renewed protests from workers over low wages and sexual harassment, the chain’s new focus on technology could intensify scrutiny of how it treats its workers and how they might be affected by automation. While McDonalds has reported impressive growth over the last couple of years, some employees at its restaurants make less than $10 an hour.

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