Las Vegas, Nevada, meet the future.
The threat of robots replacing front-line workers has been around for years. It only makes sense that a city with a service-based economy is the first real test case for an invasion of the robots.
Robots have been popping up at venues around Sin City with the hopes of attracting visitors and reducing labor costs.
Are robots just another gimmick that will eventually rust out, or should workers fear for their jobs?
The future has finally arrived
There is something to be said for those that grew up in the age of the “Jetsons,” to see the future play out in front of their eyes.
The novelty of it all might just be the biggest case for more robots.
For instance, there is a new one-armed bandit in town, and her name is Tipsy Robot. Imagine walking up to a bar, ordering a drink and being served by Tipsy.
That experience is exactly what customers who walked up to the Tipsy Robot bar located in Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops experienced over the last year.
Then there is Fetch and Jett. The Vdara Hotel and Spa butlers deliver snacks and drinks to a visitor’s room to curb the late night munchies.
Standing three-feet tall, Fetch and Jett don’t have the space to deliver more towels or even dinner. But what they do, they do faster. You’ll get your drink and snacks in as little as ten minutes and for half the cost of room service.
On the other end of the technological scale, several hotels have installed tablets to improve the guest experience by automating concierge requests, setting up the customer’s phone as their room key, and providing mobile check-in and check-out.
Bars, room service, and the concierge desk seem like logical places for robots to infiltrate the front lines. Are they really after a maid’s job, though?
Robots are not a threat to your job
Robots don’t really want your job; they want to help you do your job better.
Two realities should provide some comfort to workers:
- Automating tasks will never entirely replace human interaction
- There is a case to be made that the more efficient some jobs become thanks to robots, the more jobs it will create.
Yulia Frumer, a professor of East Asian Science and Technology at Johns Hopkins University, thinks most of the reporting about robots is just hype. She elaborated to Forbes.
“Service robots are mostly a gimmick. They definitely draw customers because of the experience they provide—not because of the function they perform. Purely in terms of functionality, it would be easier and cheaper to employ humans.”
To support Fumer’s point, in January during the Consumer Electronics Show, a pole-dancing robot made an appearance at the popular gentlemen’s club, Sapphire’s. Should dancers be fearing for their jobs, too? Hardly.
On the surface, it might seem service robots are less expensive than their human counterparts. But just like human service workers, robots get sick and need downtime for repairs, and they need benefits by way of upgrades and maintenance.
All of that translates into new jobs. It is just a different kind of job.
“There is not a good potential for labor-saving, actually,” Frumer said.
“It is true that robots can take over a particular task, but for a robot to function properly one would need to employ multiple humans for design, maintenance, customer service (for when things inevitably go wrong), and supervision. So, one robot saves labor of one unskilled human and instead requires labor of several unskilled–and skilled—humans.”
Keeping an eye on the sneaky devils
The Culinary Union Local 226 represents hospitality workers in Nevada. They have been fighting for benefits and decent wages in the Silver State since 1935.
Obviously, robots replacing front-line service personnel is a concern of the Union and its members. At one point, employees at several casinos without new contracts were preparing to strike citing robots and personal safety as the reasons.
Geoconda Arguello Kline, secretary-treasurer of the union, is proud of the work the Union is doing to protect jobs – including protecting them from robots.
“The Culinary Union has negotiated new automation and technology language in our latest five-year agreements. The language is innovative and we are the first union in the United States (and probably the world) that has such groundbreaking technology language that will protect workers. The automation and technology language ensures that workers have a say in how technology is implemented in their jobs, clear goals on retraining and retention and that any layoffs are done in order by seniority with each worker having recall rights if ever jobs are available again in the future.”
If Fumer is right and robots will end up creating a demand for a different type of job, retraining is probably the most crucial aspect of the new automation language in hospitality workers’ contracts.
Robots, are they worth the gamble?
In the end, proper expectations for a robot employee are just as crucial as expectations for a human one.
The problem lies in the overzealous nature of business to cut costs at all costs. Without the proper long-term investment in robots, what started out as being novel could end up being a nuisance.
For example, think about when automated telephone trees rolled out. It started out by routing a customer to the proper operator to solve a problem based on the number press. The telephone trees got longer and longer, and more customer interactions ended up in automated systems. Now, many people just push “0” repeatedly, bypassing the automation and going straight to the human.
Think of robots the same way. Sure they are fun and quirky now, primarily because they are new, but they will never be able to provide the same level of service as a human.
Robots are definitely worth the gamble as long as they remember their place.