Great Moments in Smart Software: IBM Watson Gets to Find Its Future Elsewhere Again

June 19, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

The smart software game is a tough one. Whip up some compute, download the models, and go go go. Unfortunately artificial intelligence is artificial and often not actually intelligent. I read an interesting article in Time Magazine (who knew it was still in business?). The story has a clickable title: “McDonald’s Ends Its Test Run of AI Drive-Throughs With IBM.” The juicy word IBM, the big brand McDonald’s, and the pickle on top: IBM.


A college student tells the smart software system at a local restaurant that his order was misinterpreted. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. How your “recall” today? What about system security? Oh, that’s too bad.

The write up reports with the glee of a kid getting a happy meal:

McDonald’s automated order taker with IBM received scores of complaints in recent years, for example — with many taking to social media to document the chatbot misunderstanding their orders.

Consequently, the IBM fast food service has been terminated.

Time’s write up included a statement from Big Blue too:

In an initial statement, IBM said that “this technology is proven to have some of the most comprehensive capabilities in the industry, fast and accurate in some of the most demanding conditions," but did not immediately respond to a request for further comment about specifics of potential challenges.

IBM suggested its technology could help fight cancer in Houston a few years ago. How did that work out? That smart software worker had an opportunity to find its future elsewhere. The career trajectory, at first glance, seems to be from medicine to grilling burgers. One might interpret this as an interesting employment trajectory. The path seems to be heading down to Sleepy Town.

What’s the future of the IBM smart software test? The write up points out:

Both IBM and McDonald’s maintained that, while their AI drive-throughs partnership was ending, the two would continue their relationship on other projects. McDonalds said that it still plans to use many of IBM’s products across its global system.

But Ronald McDonald has to be practical. The article adds:

In December, McDonald’s launched a multi-year partnership with Google Cloud. In addition to moving restaurant computations from servers into the cloud, the partnership is also set to apply generative AI “across a number of key business priorities” in restaurants around the world.

Google’s smart software has been snagged in some food controversies too. The firm’s smart system advised some Googlers to use glue to make the cheese topping stick better. Yum.

Several observations seem to be warranted:

  1. Practical and money-saving applications of IBM’s smart software do not have the snap, crackle, and pop of OpenAI’s PR coup with Microsoft in January 2023. Time is writing about IBM, but the case example is not one that makes me crave this particular application. Customers want a sandwich, not something they did not order.
  2. Examples of reliable smart software applications which require spontaneous reaction to people ordering food or asking basic questions are difficult to find. Very narrow applications of smart software do result in positive case examples; for example, in some law enforcement software (what I call policeware), the automatic processes of some vendors’ solutions work well; for example, automatic report generation in the Shadowdragon Horizon system.
  3. Big companies spend money, catch attention, and then have to spend more money to remediate and clean up the negative publicity.

Net net: More small-scale testing and less publicity chasing seem to be two items to add to the menu. And, Watson, keep on trying. Google is.

Stephen E Arnold, June 19, 2024



Got something to say?

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta