As robots and artificial intelligence begin to take on more roles in our daily lives, there are bound to be hiccups, some bigger than others. When they’re minor, they seem quaint – if a little sinister – as in the case of the emotionally unstable CIMON aboard the ISS. As these incidents scale, however, they go from cute to downright concerning. From Alexa units suggesting that users kill their parents to artificial intelligence programs learning to not only cheat at tasks, but conceal their deception from human programmers, these hiccups raise questions about the limits of technology while stoking anxieties about machines that can not only outperform humans, but also outthink them.
Another one of these hiccups recently occurred in Sasebo, Japan’s Henn Na Hotel, which bills itself as the world’s first hotel staffed by robots, including some that resemble dinosaurs. According to the Wall Street Journal, the hotel has had to fire – or turn off, decommission, or throw into a basement – half of its 243 robots because they were annoying the guests. The Journal reports that at least one guest complained that his snoring was triggering a verbal response from the “doll-shaped assistant in his room” which would mistake his nocturnal grunting for an inarticulate request. Other robots were removed due to their physical limitations: certain baggage carrier units could reach less than a quarter of the hotel’s 100 rooms, as they had to be able to travel on flat surfaces and couldn’t risk getting wet traveling between hotel wings. “They were really slow and noisy,” one guest told the Journal, “and would get stuck trying to go past each other,”
In the wake of the robot lay-offs, the hotel – which has opened additional locations in Japan – is refocusing its attention to ostensibly less-invasive forms of technology like facial recognition entry for rooms, high-tech vending machines, and solar panels.
The lesson learned here was best expressed by Hideo Sawada, who owns the hotel’s parent company. “When you actually use robots you realize there are places were they aren’t needed-or just annoy people.”
Better hope the rest of the staff doesn’t decide to go on strike.