The way people talk about artificial intelligence today, you’d think all we need to do is turn on ChatGPT and let the machines do our job for us.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I do have to confess, though: when I hear “AI” I still think of something like this:

The dangerous myth of AI in hospitality — Photo by hoteloperations.comThe dangerous myth of AI in hospitality — Photo by hoteloperations.com
The dangerous myth of AI in hospitality — Photo by hoteloperations.com

But it’s just not accurate.

I’ve spent my career working in hotel technology companies using machine learning and big data for insights and immersed myself in the world of AI recently, learning from leading hotel operators, technologists, and advisors like Philip Rothaus, Managing Director for Data & AI in Alvarez & Marsal’s Travel, Hospitality & Leisure Practice.

The reality is we’re a long way off from Matrix-style sentient, self-aware, all-encompassing AI models that can do everything that a human brain can do, but better and faster, Rothaus said.

Computer scientist and DARPA-funded AI researcher Erick Larsen goes further in The Myth of Artificial Intelligence.

The myth of artificial intelligence is that its arrival is inevitable, and only a matter of time—that we have already embarked on the path that will lead to human-level AI, and then superintelligence. There is no way for current AI to ‘evolve’ into general intelligence in the first place, absent a fundamental discovery. Simply saying ‘we’re getting there’ is scientifically and conceptually bankrupt, and further fans the flames of antihuman and anti-intellectual forces interested in controlling and predicting outcomes for maximizing short-term profit by skewing discussion toward inevitability. One way to make the future more predictable is simply to disparage and eliminate any value placed on individual intelligence.

AI may not be what you think it is

AI is frequently thought about in the most extreme terms, Rothaus observes. It’s either seen as this very scary force that’s going to automate all of our jobs away and change the nature of our lives – or it’s seen as some sort of nirvana that is not attainable for mere mortals. But AI is math, not magic.

Yet good technology works and feels like magic, Simone Puorto, CEO at Travel Singularity, notes. You don’t see it. A lot of the potential for AI is working behind the scenes to make processes more efficient.

Martin Soler, a former hotel general manager, and now the CMO at Shiji Group, agrees.

We’re a long way from robots cleaning our rooms and changing our bed sheets. It would be great to have robots help there, but we’re a long way from that. Instead, the opportunity now in hotel operations is small steps like optimizing room cleaning sequences.

AI isn’t inevitable

I constantly hear people talk as if AI is inevitable but many of those closest to the technology, such as Larsen, do not share this belief.

This myth assumes that we need only keep chipping away at the challenge of general intelligence by making progress on narrow feats of intelligence, like playing games or recognizing images. This is a profound mistake: success on narrow applications gets us not one step closer to general intelligence.

If AI isn’t inevitable, it changes the way we use and plan to use the technology.

Generative AI vs “traditional AI”

While DALL·E and ChatGPT have captured our imaginations recently, “traditional AI” still holds the most promise for businesses like hotels.

Investor Rex Woodbury notes this for communication and e-commerce:

Much of the buzz lately has been around generative AI, but ‘traditional’ AI still has a lot of room to run. And perhaps no use of AI is more visible to more people than TikTok’s For You Page, the best modern-day analogue to Hyperland’s prescient ultra-personalized internet.

But this is even more true for hotel operators, where the job is less about creating content and images and more about becoming efficient and effective.

“Traditional AI” is the biggest opportunity for hoteliers now and in the foreseeable future.

AI isn’t a cure-all that abdicates us of responsibility

Discussions about the use of AI often imply an over-reliance on what computers can do.

Rothaus noted, If I don’t know how much revenue is produced at this property or that property, and am struggling to understand the basics of how my business is performing, AI isn’t going to be some sort of magic wand that fixes all of your problems.

This sort of thinking is actually dangerous, Larson argues. It’s difficult to imagine a cultural meme that is more directly corrosive to future flourishing and, paradoxically, more directly inimical to the very invention or discovery of a workable theory of general intelligence. Whether such a theory is forthcoming in future research and development is itself an unknown, but what can be recognized is the threat of an increasingly anemic culture of ideas that will militate against any such discovery.

AI isn’t an excuse to disengage from our work as hospitality providers and hope the machines will save us.

For more, read AI for Hotels: A Practical Guide to Artificial Intelligence for Hospitality Leaders

Josiah Mackenzie
hoteloperations.com