As Hotels, Restaurants Expand Use Of Service Robots, Are Jobs At Risk?

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — He’s a robot butler at the Residence Inn LAX on Century Boulevard, and his name is Wally.

“In this particular brand of Residence Inn, if you called down and you wanted something, you’d really have to come down and get it yourself,” Residence Inn LAX General Manager Tom Beedon told CBS2.

But employees can program the butler to deliver anything to a room that fits in Wally’s compartment, even fresh towels from housekeeping.

“You’re going to hear somebody check in that says, ‘Oh, this is the hotel with Wally the Robot, right?’ ” says Beedon.

And if you think a robot delivering hand towels to your hotel room seems cool, you should check out the Gen Korean BBQ restaurant in Montclair.

It’s here where a human server takes your order with a tablet, another human loads your food in the kitchen, and a robotic system of trays and tunnels delivers it all to your table.

“I don’t think anybody 10 or 15 years ago would have thought, ‘Hey I’ll be at a Korean barbecue house with a robot bringing food out to me,’ ” says Gen Korean BBQ VP David Ghim.

But Ghim says any threat that robots pose to human employees is probably overblown.

“Whenever people hear about robots, the first thing that they think about is, ‘Well, what about the servers, the servers are right there?’ ” he said.

“Occasionally, we’ll get questions from customers and they’ll say, ‘Did this replace a human being?’ and my response is, ‘Of course not,’ says Beedon. “We’ve never had a position that makes deliveries like this.”

Experts say they’re less concerned with the occupational threats of robots who work in service industries like hotels and restaurants.

Martin Ford, author of “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”, says robots are used to complement workers in their current job duties but acknowledges that eventually they do evolve.

“Computer software is going to get a lot more capable and take over a lot of things that are being done by office workers, even by people who have college degrees,” Ford said.

He encourages workers to embrace technology, choose professions that require original thinking and avoid jobs with repetitive and predictable responsibilities that can easily be replaced with computer software.

“It may involve working with people, on a very deep level, having empathy with people maybe in the caring world like a nurse or a doctor,” he says. “Kind of a coarse way of saying, ‘Is your job really boring?’

“If it is, you should probably worry,” he added.

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