29 Oct Robots are Here to Serve
If you grew up watching The Jetsons, how can you be afraid of Robots? And really, given that it the show about the space age family has run in repeats forever (it was first broadcast in the early 1960s, and then some new episodes were made in the 1980s as well) most people in their mid-50s have probably seen the show. The family consisted of dad George, mom Jane, kids Jane and Elroy – and a very efficient robot named Rosie who was the family’s maid. Well, it took a while but Rosie or one of her descendants is apparently now working in a hotel – and not everyone is pleased about it.
Earlier this year, the Aloft Hotel in Curpertino, California (in the heart of Silicon Valley) announced that it would be trying out robots to answer some basic room service requests (‘I forgot my toothpaste can you please send some up?’). First out of the gate is one named Botlr who is already shuttling around with the Crest. He (or she?) will have a bunch of colleagues in a year or so. Botlr can’t knock on doors, but he can call your room to say he is outside, and if you get into an elevator with him he will be polite enough to let you exit first.
Some people are excited about being served by robots, and some are not. According to market research firm Software Advice, the younger you are the more likely it is that you will be excited about robot service. As the Washington Post reports, of those asked whether they would choose a hotel with a robot over one without, 77 percent were aged between 18 and 34. Of those who were not excited about the idea, 69.6 percent were aged over 45.
Whether you want to be served by a robot depends on a lot of things. You may, as the Post conjectures, like the idea because you want something cool to put on your Facebook page. You may not like the idea because you are worried about the employment prospects of those who could have been delivering the toothpaste. Or you may be biased and fearful about robots in general because if they are delivering toothpaste now, they may figure out how to do your job tomorrow.
Cute and novel as robots are right now, they are basically just another cool piece of technology, like instant tellers at the bank or scanners at the grocery store. They work cheap (or they will, once the technology is perfected), they are unlikely to unionize and unlikely to whine over their performance reviews. In short, the perfect employees, at least from the employer’s perspective.
Whether we see a Rosie in every hotel any time soon will depend partly on how quickly guests get used to them. Yes, you could have a person delivering the toothpaste, but you could also have a person selling snacks and soft drinks on every floor twenty-four hours a day. You do not see that though, because it is just not cost effective to do that. It is cost effective though to have a vending machine on every floor though – which when you think about it is a kind of stationary robot that everyone accepts without blinking an eye.