The idea of using robots to interact with humans is nothing new. In the last decade South Korea invested to become leader in robots and devised a number of applications like robot teachers and robot serving as customer interface at Post Offices in Seoul. I actually met one of them in a trip to Seoul and although I was not impressed (he spoke a good Korean, which I didn't....) I had to admit that it grabbed my and other people attention.
Now I read that Hilton is starting to experiment using robots as concierge. Take a look at the video clip: Connie, that's the name given to the robot, is surely cute, it can speak many languages and has a very broad knowledge.
Being cute, and new, attracts customers. Whether they consider Connie a gadget, a few minutes of entertainment or an actual service remains to be seen. It will probably take a few months to Hilton customers to get used to Connie and move from a novelty attracting their interest to a normal presence in the lobby. At that point we will see if customers will prefer to interact with Connie or with a human concierge.
Connie is not the first example of using robots in a hotel lobby: in Japan there are a few examples, as well as in the US, with robots serving in various tasks. However, what grabbed my attention was the fact that Connie is just the customer interface. Connie's brain reside in Watson, the smart computer of IBM.
IBM, after having demonstrated Watson capabilities by winning Jeopardy, has moved Watson to the backstage and has worked to leverage on its knowledge (and intelligence?) to provide services (like assisting in medical diagnoses).
Connie is another face, a cute one, of Watson. By accessing Watson intelligence from remote the cost of Connie can be kept low. Even more interesting, Watson will be able to learn from hundreds of Connies and get more efficient in answering customers queries.
The robot itself is produced by Aldebaran Robotics but IBM is using it just as an interface to Watson.
I guess this is just a first example of what we are going to see as a growing trend in the coming years. Access to a centralised (Cloud based?) intelligence enable low cost interfaces to become ubiquitous. And, as I said, it goes beyond lowering the cost: it is about getting more experience and getting smarter, faster.