A robot first appeared in a motion picture in 1919, The Master Mystery. The machine was called “the Automaton,” as the term robot would not be used until 1920. Since then our imaginations have been led by humanoid machines capable of capturing our hearts (R2D2) to threatening our very destruction (Westworld, The Terminator). A common theme among these robots was an intelligence, sometimes sinister and sometimes benevolent, but always present. The movies implanted a mental image of a robot, but don’t be unduly alarmed – C3P0 is not yet on the horizon.  
Robots have reshaped manufacturing, technology, aerospace and online retail/warehouse supply chain structure and process. That same quantum leap is on its way to hospitality just as surely as the computer changed the front desk process late in the 20th century. Robots entering the hospitality industry will be very different from their fictional counterparts and certainly won’t possess the artificial intelligence of the sinister HAL Computer, from 2001: A Space Odyssey – at least not yet. 
However, the rate of technological change brings significant implications for today’s hotel executive, not only about the speed at which robotics will become an integral part of hospitality operations, but also in regard to the challenges this will present as employees – humans – navigate the adoption phase of the new technology.
A panel has been assembled to present and discuss this topic at the upcoming Lodging Conference in Phoenix, Ariz.: The panel, “Robots and AI: Here! Now!,” will focus on the growth of the robotics market as more and more hotels are testing and deploying robots for everything from check-in and room service to cleaning rooms, concierge and more. The audience will learn about the latest state-of-the-art advancements, and meet some robots as well. 
According to Ken Greger, managing director with AETHOS Consulting Group and the panel moderator, and one of the panelists, Robert Rippee, director of the hospitality innovation lab at UNLV, some of the topics that will be discussed include:
1. What is the current state of robotics in hospitality?
2. Robotics and human capital in hospitality: Where complementary and where divergent?
3. Will robots and artificial intelligence allow humans more time to focus on optimizing the guest experience?
4. What are some of the key advantages offered by robots and artificial intelligence?  And what areas should be avoided?
Let’s take a quick peek into the future: 
 Martin Ford in his book, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, said, “Computers are getting dramatically better at performing specialized, routine and predictable tasks, and it seems very likely that they will soon be poised to outperform many of the people now employed to do these things.” As a hospitality tool, robotics will be adept at our specialized, routine tasks; tasks where accuracy is essential; tasks that require large amounts of data processing; and tasks that may be unsafe or dangerous to humans. Robots could redefine the entire system of processes within hotels, disrupting and changing departmental and organizational structures.  Some hotel companies are testing or have already deployed robotic solutions to housekeeping, room service, dishwashing and more.
One obvious advantage artificial intelligence will offer is the integration of language recognition and translation by machines into service processes. Although the current state is not perfect, language and linguistics applications are rapidly advancing. If you’d like to test the theory, just ask Siri how many languages she supports. 
All that said, robots are not adept at processing our human emotions nor is the technology adept at creative, unpredictable and non-routine tasks. The technology can’t be programmed to care about a guest nor possess other human emotions. So, will they work hand-in-hand on teams with humans? 
Robot and technology startups focused on the hospitality industry are actively designing and deploying robots in operating hotels. Leading hotel brands are beginning to test artificial intelligence coupled machines as well. 
Robert Rippee said, “We think the integration of robotics and AI into the hotel industry will progress rapidly. The early beta tests will provide verification of the economic benefits, cost-effective investment and free up human capital to focus on the guest experience. New jobs will be created to manage and support this technology, and staffing structures will likely change.”
Ken Greger adds, “The only thing to fear in this instance is failing to accept the inevitable. Come to our panel at The Lodging Conference and learn more. Embrace robotics and AI, commit to learning all you can about the current state and what else is just around the corner. Be proactive in thinking through and planning for this technology – and the appropriate human balance – so it doesn’t end up as an invasion to your business, or an advantage of your competitor.”