Is a robotic revolution on the horizon?

By Alan Newton, Co-Founder and COO of Eventopedia

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Jenny was an extremely busy event professional working at the corporate HQ of a finance firm in the city.  As a time-poor and fatigued eventprof she could not function without her morning hit of caffeine. But, it wasn’t just the coffee that set Jenny’s heart beat racing on that first grey cold winter morning in The Artisan Coffee House down the road from her office.

Roberto had been the head barista at The Artisan for 10-months since he arrived in London from his native Milano. Jenny captured his imagination the moment he first saw her. Handsome, confident and out-going, Roberto was not short on attention himself, yet he turned into a nervous mute whenever Jenny come in and ordered her morning coffee.

For a year, Roberto was Jenny’s guilty pleasure. She would order coffee and sit and slowly nurse it whilst admiring him from afar, believing he had no interest in her. He would be so chatty with all the other customers but barely said a word to her. For one of Jenny’s upcoming events, the team had the idea of installing their own coffee bar and needed a Barista. This was an opportunity to speak to him on a business level and – at least – spark a conversation. Jenny found Roberto shy at first but after a few meetings, he asked if she fancied a drink after work to discuss the event in a less formal environment. She jumped at the chance and they’ve been inseparable ever since.

Don’t worry, I’m not looking to compete with E.L. James and start a series of blogs entitled 50 Shades of Brown…

Advancements in Robotics

The Times reported at the weekend that – in some industries – robots are replacing vanishing migrant workers. Citing a blend of factors, such as Brexit and the falling value of Sterling, it represents a perfect storm for robots migrating into jobs typically performed by humans. As the strawberry picking season begins in May, a handful of automated picking machines will be tested by farmers searching for a high-tech solution to the problem of a labour shortage. For those believing Artifical Intelligence (AI) is confined to science fiction movies and/or is something way off in the future, think again. AI has already arrived and iinfiltrated our daily lives, from telling us when we need a pizza, to want book to buy, or what online movie to stream. And now AI is more overtly entering the mainstream labour market.

In the week that Britain officially triggers Brexit, which has placed a great deal of emphasis upon immigration and jobs, it’s perhaps rather disconcerting for British workers to hear of the immediacy with which robots could be deployed across industry.

Although not the immediate horizon for the hospitality industry, The Times underlines the problem in our sector;

“The hotel and food service sector employs about a quarter of a million EU nationals, according to Mercer, a recruitment consultant. About one in three staff are not from the UK.”

We have previously voiced the issue of Brexit creating potential labour shortages in our sector, and if such shortages become a reality through the Brexit process, then it may very well hasten the development of robotic solutions in our sector.

Indeed, with the rapid introduction and broader deployment of robotics, such Roberto-Jenny human connections and guilty pleasures could well be a thing of the past, or at least, confined to your fellow coffee punters.

This opens up many theological questions as to what it is to be human, the future of education, the importance of work, and how human relations in the workplace are a major part of what makes a business work. If technology – specifically robots – replace the ability for humans to connect and subjugates humans, there needs to be serious debate as to the benefits of business strategy that introduces it. Technology should enable humans to do more, yet advancements in some areas of robotics gives the rise to the notion of technological singularity, resulting in untold changes to human civilisation.

We are now entering a phase of such advancement whereby business leaders need to become more involved in the debate, with consideration given to the pursuit of profit (at any cost) over social responsibility (to the human race).  So, the time for debate is now and should be sociolgical as much as it is technological.

Alan is Co-Founder and COO of Eventopedia. An Executive MBA graduate of Hult International Business School in London, Alan spent 15 years in senior operational, commercial, supply chain & procurement roles within leading EMEA event agencies, serving on multiple hotel advisory boards, before Co-Founding Eventopedia in April 2014.

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