On the anniversary of Kristallnacht (“Reichspogromnacht” in Germany), the Nazi-organized attack on synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses in 1938 that marked the beginning of the Holocaust, the German app users of the international restaurant chain KFC received the message above, which translates to “It’s memorial day for Kristallnacht! Treat yourself with more tender cheese on your crispy chicken. Now at KFCheese!”
In the next message, KFC apologized for the “system error.” It was not the system’s fault, however, but the fault of the humans who put the task of sending out automated promotional messages entirely in the metaphorical hands of a machine, without human oversight. No human being, especially in Germany, would come up with the idea of celebrating a tragedy on the scale of Kristallnacht with a “cheesy chicken” promotion. What happened was that the system was programed to send out a promotion coordinated with every holiday and memorial on the calendar, and nobody bothered to make sure that such promotions would be appropriate for all of them.
Quick! Somebody check with KFC Japan to see if a fried chicken promotion is scheduled to commemorate the atom bomb falling on Hiroshima!
Fortunately, this episode of technology incompetence was only embarrassing and offensive. The next example of humans carelessly entrusting tasks and decisions to computers may not be so easy to fix. Technology is a monster if it is not tamed, trained, watched carefully and used with meticulous care. Not only that, the harm it can do if employed recklessly or cavalierly, or if supervised by those without the foresight and judgment to do so competently, is the stuff of science fiction horror movies. This is a cautionary tale, and attention must be paid.
If enough people pay attention and heed the lesson, KFC may have performed a great service in its incompetence.
That is a big if, however.