In the world of hospitality, there’s a growing preference when it comes to gender in human-robot interaction.
When guests interact with robots at hotels, they tend to feel more at ease with female robots. This trend is stronger when these robots possess human-like features, reveals a study from Washington State University.
Gender Stereotypes Extend to Robots
Soobin Seo, the mind behind the research and an assistant professor at WSU’s Carson Business College, sheds light on the reasons for this phenomenon. “People generally find solace when cared for by females, a result of prevalent gender stereotypes associated with service roles,” she explains. “This stereotype doesn’t stop at human interactions; it extends to hotel robot interactions too. And when these robots resemble humans closely, the preference is even more evident.”
Before the onset of the global pandemic, the hotel industry grappled with keeping its staff. Some hoteliers found a solution in automation and robots, employing them in various roles. They’re not just tucked away in the back, handling chores like dishwashing or cleaning. Robots today, in some establishments, welcome guests or even handle their luggage.
The upscale Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas, for instance, employs female humanized robots named “Pepper.” On the other side of the spectrum, China’s fully automated FlyZoo hotel chain offers an exclusive robot and AI-powered experience to its guests.
Study Highlights Distinct Preferences for Human-Robot Interaction
To delve deeper into this preference, participants in Seo’s study visualized interactions with AI service robots during their hotel stay. Four distinct scenarios were crafted for this experiment:
- A male service robot, “Alex,” equipped with a face and a body resembling a human.
- “Sara,” a robot identical to Alex but female.
- Two other robot descriptions, gendered differently but portrayed as more mechanical with interactive screens replacing faces.
Feedback from participants was quite revealing. Those who imagined interactions with female robots, especially the human-like ones, found their experience more pleasant. In contrast, the male robot scenarios didn’t evoke a similarly positive response.
Future Considerations in AI and Hospitality
But it’s not just about gender preferences. The implications of substituting human hotel staff with AI robots span broader issues. Seo highlights a crucial consideration: “When a robot errs or malfunctions, like misplacing luggage or botching a reservation, guests will likely seek human intervention.”
Moreover, Seo and her team at WSU are currently probing another dimension: the robot’s personality. Do guests prefer robots that are chatty and outgoing, or those that are more reserved?
For AI robot developers and hotel employers, these findings are invaluable. Seo predicts an uptick in robot usage in hotels and restaurants, emphasizing the importance of understanding psychological dynamics in such interactions. “The intricacies we see in human-to-human interactions might very well shape the future of human-to-robot interactions,” she concludes.