Motherboard contributor Gian Volpicelli has a funny report this week on his interactions with a bizarre new menu system about to be launched by Pizza Hut, which claims to be able to guess each customer’s subconscious choice of pizza by tracking their eye movements. Kinda creepy in a “big brother is actually just a foodie” sort of way.
I approached the device with the skeptical agenda of debunking its mind-reading capabilities. My profile made me a hard nut: I am vegetarian (ok, pescetarian) and I was born and raised in Rome, where I have learned to love basic, light pizzas—a pizza with mushroom and tomato is the most complex I can stomach. If the psychic menu pulled a haphazard guess, I would know.
My first encounter with the machine lasted about ten seconds. Just the time to stare at the black screen, glimpse the colourful ingredient collection, and then the verdict emerged: turned out that I wanted a Cajun Sizzler, a jumbo pizza generously laden with chicken and pepperoni (which, I realised, wasn’t Italian peperoni—peppers—but a very meaty thing). A second attempt was an even more resounding fiasco, as the wise device suggested something called Meat Feast. It took a third try, and a lot of studious basil-gawping, to have the tablet dish out a light, vegetarian option.
So, the “mind-reading menu” didn’t work? According to a Pizza Hut spokesperson, the answer was less clear-cut: “Subconsciously, you probably wanted those pizzas.”
A more technical explanation is given by Simon Moore, a psychologist who was involved in the device’s development. “We are automatically driven to foods that give us more nutrition—it is a safety mechanism we’ve inherited from primitive man that still plays a role in our subconscious decision making,” Moore is quoted as saying in the company’s press release. In other words, my vegetarianism was nothing but a thin moral veneer screening a Meat Feast-craving caveman.