Androids: the new benchmark for luxury hotels

Japan, 2018 CE

You are at the Henn-na Hotel. Check in is scheduled for 3 p.m. Robots will wait for you at the desk to record your personal data and give you the magnetic key to access the room assigned to you; you follow their voice instructions. If your arrival at the hotel is prior to the scheduled check-in time, you can leave your luggage in the hotel's secure storage, supervised by a cybernetic helper, who will arrange the precious items in the special safety deposit boxes. Make sure your baggage size does not exceed the maximum allowed to facilitate mechanical arm storage procedures. Upon check-in, a web cam will create a virtual map of your face, which will be useful to open more quickly the door of your room thanks to the technology of facial recognition. Each room is equipped with motion sensors and a sophisticated home automation system, which will allow you to manage heating and lighting comfortably and independently. Next to the bed, the virtual assistant Tuly, in the form of a table lamp, will give you the alarm clock and provide valuable information on local weather: you need to set your preferred language first. For check out, balance of payment and printing of your tax receipt, you will use the digital assistant at the reception, next to the desk.

Science fiction? No! We are at Hen-na Hotel in Huis Ten Bosch, Nagasaki Prefecture, the first hotel in the history of contemporary hoteling commanded entirely by androids. A model of management efficiency and effectiveness strictly tailored to the needs of the guest who, for the entire duration of the stay, can count on the help of a staff of androids trained to speak little and work a lot. Silent, polite, discreet, punctual, workaholic: this is the new generation of receptionists, butlers, waiters and room assistants who do not come from the best hoteling institutes, but from some Japanese or Silicon Valley company, and who have found work with prestigious hotel chains and luxury hotels with an eye toward the future.

What if I needed assistance? If I were to get sick, who would I turn to?

Don't worry. The management of 'Henn-na reassures that the hotel is fully supervised by web cams managed remotely by human staff, always on duty.

Times change, paranoia remains

While it may be pleasant to feel that one is only a customer to be served and not a person to be observed, being surrounded exclusively by zealous cybernetic organisms causes slight discomfort. Although in their most advanced versions they can capture human emotions from body temperature analysis and facial expressions; Notwithstanding that they can modulate the tone of voice to align with the mood and be more enjoyable in interacting with each other; and even though they are designed to deduce and anticipate every guest's need, humanoids do not convince to the full. Despite the fact that some solitude and anonymity can be beneficial to the spirit, and despite the fact that social relations are often disappointing, we desperately need human contact.

The seduction of the organic

The future is now, and we cannot stop it. Artificial intelligence is taking its first steps into society and the hotel sector is a privileged testing ground for the first "test drive" of the positive interaction between humans and androids. The experience of Hen-na Hotel is, at the moment, the only one of its kind; but several hotels now propose a model of hybrid management of human resources, which compensates the fallibility of the flesh and blood personnel with robots.
Since 2015, Mario, an exciting blue-eyed robo-concierge, has been an integral part of the staff at the Ghent Marriot Hotel in Belgium. It is employed at the reception, where it welcomes guests in 19 languages, and, during meals, supervises the buffet in the dining room, taking note of any requests made by the guests.
Hannah, at the H Hotel in Los Angeles, checks in with her internal computer, accompanies new arrivals in their rooms and provides essential information about the hotel's services. Hannah is tireless, she can grind even 50 miles a day between room service and deliveries to the front desk and, thanks to the monitor built into her "person", you can give her commands easily and quickly, without feeling guilty for not having tipped her.
And then there's Pepper, the humanoid of SoftBank Robotic, who entertains tourists in the lobby by showing off his dancing skills and his innate photogenic quality for selfies. In addition to being a histrionic host, Pepper is also a competent promoter, trained to provide all the information you need to better organize your stay in the city. Pepper is the flagship of Las Vegas' Mandarin Oriental and Anaheim's Marriott Courtyard, the hotel within walking distance from Disneyland. Managers, colleagues and guests are literally crazy about him because, in his white metal shell, he perfectly embodies the change taking place in the hotel industry, where the challenge is now all in the personalized offer of cutting-edge services and efficiency of customer care.

Will the androids steal our work?

Experts swear not, and hospitality CEOs confirm: it seems that the time is not ripe for people to retire permanently, especially in the hotel industry. Although one job in two will be at risk of extinction in the near future, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) - an American think tank that has analyzed 700 types of work, studying the trends of the U.S. labor market from 1850 to 2015 - the technological innovation that has involved and will involve a replacement of workers, will not replace them permanently.
The advantages of automation are undeniable, especially when it comes to performing repetitive tasks and effectively managing the standardised routine of certain processes. But to do a good job, accuracy and speed of execution are not everything. Although Technology can help us improve performance, only a human being can know what there is to do and why it is necessary to do it. By handling large volumes of information quickly and simultaneously, and relating significant data, machines learn to perform the tasks assigned to them, but data analysis is at the same time the resource and the limit of machine learning. Machines know how to deduce and infer but, as things stand, they are not yet able to cope with new and unexpected situations, as they do not have creative thinking, intuition and empathy.
Collaboration, rather than competition, is the key word for inclusive and functional progress. No robot or android, at the moment, can compute with absolute accuracy the infinite variety of human behavior, nor manage the unpredictable variety of actions and reactions of the subject with whom they are relating. Customer satisfaction, which remains the core business of the hotel industry, is therefore still closely dependent on the human factor. And the threat of new Luddites is temporarily curbed.

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