Industry Update
Opinion Article17 December 2015

Would You like Your Service Today Live or Programmed, Madam? Part II

By Steven Ferry

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Last month, Part I of this article traced the history of robots in hospitality from Ancient Greek times to the first workplace application at GM 50 years ago, and the exponential progress made in robotics since then with the introduction of Artificial Intelligence, and the rapid encroachment into the workplace, including hotels now being run mainly by robots.


Surprisingly, and little known, is the fact that there is a convergence between humans and robots: the effort to make robots capable of everything and more that humans are capable of, and humans being "improved" with robotics. In just 15 years, the expectation by those aware of or driving the trend, is that humans will be largely redundant in many fields, from surgery to hospitality.

Those in hospitality, who tend to be more aware and engaged than others, know that the human and emotional element cannot be replicated by software programs, and that the very definition of hospitality must include these elements—but only if we are to be servicing humans. If we are servicing guests who have lost their way as humans, or robots, then free-spirited and self-determined human service providers do indeed become not just redundant, but a liability.

Part II of this article explores the vistas opened up by the robot builders amongst us.

Flawed Logic and Intelligence, Missing Emotional Engagement—The Scientist at Work

No amount of programmed facial expressions or even, perchance in the future, crocodile tears, or dancing dummies, will ever make up for the lack of…what is it? One could say sincerity, but the actual missing element is the one element that these gods of the aspiring religion of science, have neither awareness nor understanding: spirit!

The simple definition of man for millennia has been, "Body, mind, and spirit." But that is not how such scientists describe man, because the humanities went astray in 1879 when Marxist Professor, WilhelmWundt, of Leipzig University in Germany, declared that the mind was simply the brain (based on the observation that most nerves were in the brain and all nerve channels went to the brain). He taught that man was a stimulus-response animal and had neither spirit nor self-determinism. Psychology and then psychiatry based their entire works on these erroneous opinions, and so we have mind as brain, software as hardware. Suddenly everything mental is physical, which is why psychiatry has a pantheon of just three "therapies," all physical: lobotomy and its variations (making people into vegetables by severing the front of the brain); ECT (electric shock) and its variations; and drugging. None of these work (if by work we mean to correctly diagnose and alleviate a condition to the benefit/increased abilities of the patient) because the brain is not the mind. These cruel treatments fix things as effectively as smashing the headlights when the oil needs changing.

And then we come to the spiritual—psychiatrists and such scientists think they are bodies. They have persuaded many people to believe the same thing by onerous repetition from a self-proclaimed point of authority with unlimited funds to forward that message. So for them, there is no mind and spirit in man, it is all just "body."

So, of course, from their perspective, rebuilding bodies into better bodies is a key goal, requiring only fiddling with neurons, DNA, atoms, and bits and bytes. It is not an incorrect goal in their mind, to go beyond a benign augmenting of physically failing parts with the wonders of implants and such in order to improve the quality of life; and to push instead for a complete robotization of humans and supra control of them mentally and physically through the Cloud. A wet dream for control freaks, this vector is definitely in play when we talk about the future of mankind, driven by materialistic scientists, control-happy central governments, bottom-line-happy corporations, and obviously, a natural urge to play a game.

Some people in the scientific community are sounding the alarm, though, such as Stephan Hawkins and Elon Musk. A similar alarm was sounded to President Roosevelt and the world, after Einstein had suggested the atomic bomb to Roosevelt, and Roosevelt had it built. Then, after the horse had bolted, Einstein, Oppenheimer and others tried to close the door. And here we are, two atomic bombs exploded over cities and one Fukushima-polluted planet later, and one button-push away from Armageddon.

Going back to the video link above, one robot wonders when he will attain consciousness. "When will I be a real person?" His programmer is using the robot as a proxy, it seems, simply because the programmer's definition and understanding of mankind is incomplete, and he does not know how to program life force into an object—for the simple reason that one cannot. Life forces take over objects, whether hominid or robot. They are not part of the physical universe, they are no more the object than a truck driver is his truck. Life force (you) plays a game of controlling objects. So no amount of bits and bytes, computers, atoms and cells will ever create a life force—they only modify whatever object the life force is controlling.

This life force is the source of the ideas and thoughts that drive the objects in the game of life, the source of the emotions, the entity that is alive. And this is what we sense when dealing with other people, compared with when dealing with objects or confronted by a dead body. If in doubt, watch Tom Hanks in Castaway again: as good a face as he drew on the basketball and talked to it, imagined it talking back, it was not the real deal—and why he eventually had to escape the island and find real people, real life force, to interact with.

Rather than trying to create life force, how about taking the 7.3 billion that already exist on this planet, and freeing them from the impediments they face in life, so they can improve that way? Why advertise a failure to understand and direct sensibly fellow humans by dismissing them as inferior and seeking to create machines they can control and to replace those inferior hominids? All it takes is understanding what makes people tick—but that is hard when one is missing 2/3rds of the picture of man.

There is nothing wrong with robot bodies, they have many pluses, but in the absence of an understanding of life, they will be created in the image of the maker, and when that image is 2/3rds off-the-mark, we are not heading towards a viable future, but disaster.

The purpose of this article is not a Luddite (English workers two centuries ago who destroyed machinery they believed correctly threatened their existing jobs) rejection of technological advance, but a rapid injection of the humanities into the development, so that the urge to control and replace is sublimated into the urge to use technology to help manage dangerous or boring tasks, to replace failing organic systems, to explore new frontiers, and to open up other purposeful activities (the definition of work) for mankind. Work does not have to be a 9-5 grind to secure a paycheck so as to maintain the 9-5 grind.

Contrary to popular opinion, leisure is a grind, because a very good definition of leisure is "activity without a purpose," and as any wealthy do-nothing person knows, that is death, despite all the glitz and glamour associated with it by Madison Avenue. Climbing a mountain to take photographs or just to do it as a challenge, has a purpose and could be considered work. If robots are handling 50% of the chores, then we have more time to climb mountains and civilization is that much more advanced that it can afford to support activities of peoples' choosing without those people being tied to the fields to put food in their stomach so they can continue to tend the fields.

Ray Kurzweil predicts in his book, Age of Spiritual Machines (an oxymoron, if ever there were one), that computers will be implanted in human brains so they can access the Internet with their brains (he thinks their minds) by 2019.

As computer chips have been doubling their speed every 18 months, computers will be powerful enough by 2029 to replicate electronically a person's brain onto a machine, and either eliminate the hominid or have the hominid cloned in robot form—depending on the scientist talking—and with The Matrix in mind, both linked with, and controlled through, the Smart Grid/Internet.

The convergence of man with AI robots is anticipated to become a reality between 2029 and 2045. Individuals refusing to become part of the Singularity, as it is termed, will be relegated to a "human underclass," according to Kurzweil. Which gives us one or two generations to insert some humanities into this "Brave New World."

These visions come from myopic scientists, or their fevered bosses, pursuing the "robots are ideal, humans are superfluous" motif. They lack understanding of the humanities and personally, lack life/aliveness; and so naturally, have an affinity for robots.

If we temper their visions with the voice of reason and a modicum of understanding of how humans work and what great service is, we see that robots have their uses and so do humans; the real challenge in developing mankind is abandoning the pernicious and fixed ideas promoted by psychology and psychiatry that have turned mankind into a programmed animal, and bringing forward a real understanding of man and the humanities; and the real challenges in developing AI are bringing about creativity; ethical and correct decision-making; intuition; close observation of, and response to, the myriad nuances that turn one situation into something completely different; and instilling the civilizing influence that raises us above the tooth and claw concept of the materialist. Right now, the robot is hopeless at all these elements, because he is being made in the image of his maker and the majority of humans who should be standing up and saying something in debate, remain mostly unaware and quiet.

Just one example: When asked by a human what was immoral, one AI robot replied, "The fact that you have a child." To be sure, in an AI-dominated world, the perpetuation of the human species is neither logical nor necessary; and there is many a population-reduction proponent in the ranks of robot makers and their bosses.

Humans Need Not Apply

Some hominids seem as hopeless as robots at the finer points of life or service. We think of them as the colleagues, friends, or family members who just can't seem to learn or be sensitive to guest service needs. They act like robots—no responsibility, no awareness, no finesse, no life—constantly having to be pushed around and stopping whenever we cease to push them. They are exhausting to have in the workplace and a drag on production. They fill seats but add nothing to the drive and bottom line.

The perennial and quixotic drive to build metal versions of the same personality is flawed, from the perspective of the true service-professional. The pipe dream of programming robots or people to handle every single situation that can arise, so they can be left to do their job unsupervised, will never be achieved. There is no substitute for alive and intelligent management of situations by alive and intelligent, self-determined staff, whether made of flesh or metal. It is simply a question of knowing how to fix what is broken with humans, so they can achieve this standard, and this should be a sufficiently challenging game to warrant immersing oneself in as a hospitality professional.

And so we have a challenge to increase the life and intelligence of humans as the best antidote to the encroachment of metal versions, which will merely give us more of the same.

In 1910, it took 6 people to produce what 4 people could in 1940, 2 people in 1970, and so on. Job markets shift, and automation/robots have been and are part of that picture. Since 2009, corporate spending on equipment and software has increased by 26%, while payrolls have remained unchanged (i.e. negative, given inflation). This says something about the future.

This is a lesson that the likes of Starwood would do well to grasp: it plans to introduce robot butlers to tend to guests in 100 hotels.

A report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia predicts 40% of Australian jobs could disappear by 2030 years as a result of technological advances—not just call centers, but even some nursing and surgical jobs.

NPR created a calculator based on Oxford University research to determine which of 702 jobs are most likely to be automated based on anticipated robotic skills. Accountants and telemarketing roles are most at risk, while people who do more creative jobs are less likely to be put out of work by machines. How so? Some aspects of a job are easier to automate than others. It all depends on the tasks. A job that requires helping others, negotiating, or being creative is less likely to be automated.

Check out the video, Humans Need not Apply.

Where a service professional rotely performs his/her duties without passion, he/she is in danger of being superseded by robots programmed to perform the same duties with the same level of engagement. Trying to out-robot a robot will not meet with much success; we are much better focused on demonstrating the one thing that no programmer can ever imbue into their creations: life itself. It is the life and understanding of live beings that people look for in relationships. Granted, there are some guests who have become so swamped in materialism that they do not seek life, and prefer to deal with robots as the ideal servant; but as the movie The Cast Away showed, most people crave real, live people, with all their idiosyncrasies, all their demands and problems, over simply talking to matter devoid of emotions, self-determinism, and life.

Entering the Debate, Returning Balance to the Progress

Change is one certainty in life, and evolving job markets with the advance of technology, whether of fire, wheel, horse, steam, mass production, computer or robotics, will always have winners and losers; overall, these advances tend in the direction of improved standards of living. This may still hold true with the great AI/robotics breakthroughs, however.

Mankind will find a way to combine man with AI/robots in order to make great things possible for many—if given the chance. But not if the change is forced on him swiftly by materialistic men who reject the humanities and see all life as a matter of the material, of profit and control; and who in the process unleash a Frankenstein that overwhelms, and renders redundant, mankind.

Work is not drudgery, but a vital component of life, giving meaning and purpose. If we can organize for robots to take on the repetitive or dangerous or onerous tasks, we can redefine what is considered work: just as we have done with athletes who are paid handsomely for playing, and actors for acting. Every activity is creative and when encouraged as such, can become a pleasure. Take housekeeping: maybe a robot purchased to vacuum will free the housekeeper to hit all those spots that she usually does not have time for, and so can take pride in delivering a shining suite for the guests.

Somehow we have to seize the initiative on the debate, and find a role for humans, and a humanity for the robot makers, so that we transition smoothly to the future.

First published by Hotel Executive Review and reprinted with permission of the author

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Would You like Your Service Today Live or Programmed, Madam? | By Steven Ferry

3 December 2015 — In the 1990's, I interviewed several futurists who, amongst other predictions, anticipated the omnipresence of robots in the workforce. In 2001 (unrelated to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), I spoke at a butler convention about a convergence of "hominids" (humans) and robots: the robots becoming more human and the humans becoming more robotic—and warned that this did not augur (signal) well for humans who preferred superior service.
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Steven Ferry

Professor Steven Ferry trains butlers and other service professionals in private estates, luxury hotels and resorts, and other superior-service venues. He is chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers ( and author of the best-selling industry text, Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators ([email protected]

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