Artificial intelligence serving as a kind of hotel concierge might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but as is often noted, today's science fiction is tomorrow's science fact. That's just what Edwardian Hotels London is out to deliver with its new Edward system, designed by Aspect (News - Alert) Software.
Edward operates as part of a mobile short message service (SMS) system, allowing guests to perform a variety of services just by sending Edward a text message. Certain amenities fall under Edward's purview—replacement towels or room service, for example—and Edward can also offer up information about the surrounding area, like good bars or restaurants. Edward can even handle guest complaints, and responses are set to come within seconds of sending the message.
Edward is a chatbot driven by the Aspect Customer Engagement Platform (CXP), which incorporates natural language understanding (NLU) systems to let customers speak to a system and be understood, rather than issuing a set of pre-established commands. Better yet, should there be a situation that Edward can't immediately handle, it falls back to human operations, ensuring that one way or another the task is accomplished. Users can even specifically request a callback from a human, bypassing Edward altogether. Those interested in trying Edward out will be able to do so at 12 Edwardian locations, including the one at Heathrow Airport and the Vanderbilt in South Kensington.
Edwardian Hotels London's director of information technology, Michael Mrini, commented, “Edwardian Hotels London places a high value on our brand and it is imperative that we evolve our guest experiences to meet growing consumer demand for more digital interaction. The hotel’s recent rebranding is indicative of this initiative, and Edward is a fun and personalized way for our guests to enhance their experience and engage with us.”
This is really a refinement over what's been previously seen in call centers, with machines handling the simple stuff while clearing up the humans' schedule to address more complex tasks. Yet at the same time, some see this as a slippery slope, with improving machines being increasingly brought into play until there's no longer a need for humans at all. That commonly results in massive job losses and a serious, systemic blow to the wider economy. It doesn't have to go that far, of course; it can be used as a way to provide service in off-hours or take some weight off a call center, but if it goes as far as it could, it could mean disaster.
Edward is an exciting prospect in its own right, but it also represents a much darker potential. Like any tool, it's all in how it's used, and Edward right now is likely to deliver a lot of value for Edwardian hotels, and potentially beyond.