Hilton is testing an artificial intelligence-powered concierge robot for its chain of hotels in the US through a partnership with IBM's Watson program. The automaton, called "Connie" after company founder Conrad Hilton, can already be found in the Hilton McLean hotel in Virginia. Guests can ask it questions about nearby restaurants, tourist attractions, and hotel information, but it can't check them in quite yet.
The robot is based on Nao, a popular $8,000 humanoid bot made by French robotics company Aldebaran. The multilingual Nao can be found taking on diverse roles around the world including as a helpful assistant in Japanese banks. Hilton's version is powered by Watson software, which mostly helps with natural language processing so Connie can understand human speech. Connie also utilizes travel information from WayBlazer, a IBM partner that uses Watson to offer up personalized recommendations for travelers. Watson, which famously beat human champions in a high-profile Jeopardy! competition, is IBM's gateway to bringing AI to mainstream industries outside the tech industry, albeit in narrow and specific use cases.
Connie represents just the beginning of robotic automation in the US
Connie is nothing new of course. In Japan, you can stay at the Henn-na Hotel in a Netherlands-themed amusement park that is staffed entirely by robots, including the Nao bot and a life-sized velociraptor used for checking in English patrons. Around the globe, robots are popping up in a number of work environments to take over or augment human activities. The trend has been taking off mostly in Asia, where you can see emotion-reading robot guards in South Korean prisons and interact with Pepper, an advanced humanoid bot co-developed by Japanese robotics giant SoftBank and Aldebaran.
So Hilton getting into concierge automation is not surprising, even though the hotel chain doesn't seem eager to give Connie responsibilities on anywhere near the scale of hotels in more robot-friendly countries. Still, researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, writing in 2013 paper titled "The Future of Employment," estimate that nearly half of all jobs will be automated over the next three to four decades. Hotel concierge, like toll booth operators and fast food cashiers, is high on the list.