Pittsburg-based HyperActive Technologies has reportedly deployed a fast-food restaurant demand management system, called "Bob," that can reliably predict whether you'll want burgers or chicken nuggets even before you walk in the door. By examining your height, it can decide whether you're a child (nuggets, probably) or an adult (burgers, probably) and get the chefs working seconds or minutes before you actually order. Bob has apparently allowed a few fast-food restaurant franchises to reduce wastage and improve customer response times significantly.
This is clearly just Phase One in a long-term trend: perfect customer identification for brick-and-mortar retailers. And why shouldn't they have it? For years, online businesses have been using cookies (witness Amazon.com) to present a customized selection of potentially appealing goods to their visitors--while physical stores have been forced to treat every incoming customer (even a repeat customer) as a near-featureless blob. Enough. With decent face-recognition software and a simple wireless computer-to-employee intercom system, greeters could hail repeat customers by name and offer tailored specials to them as they enter the store. They could even make hour-to-hour merchandising changes based on the demographics of their current visitors (displaying expensive jewelry more prominently when the customer mix is high-spending, for example). Of course, the possibilities multiply when retailers start to share customer information with one another. This kind of personalization is just another way technology is (ironically) making the world a friendlier, more intimate place. Rejoice.