Ball State study suggests people accept robots, but want humans in charge

Muncie, In. — People accept robots working in hotels but want humans clearly in charge, says a hospitality management researcher at Ball State University.

Craig Webster, who teaches hospitality management in Ball State’s Miller College of Business, was part of an international research team that found the results during a survey in 2017 of Iranian hotel costumers.

“Hotel managers who would like to introduce robot-delivered services would need to start with activities that would face least resistance by the tourists,” he said, “namely cleaning, provision of information, delivery of items such as food and drinks to the room, and processing payments. Robots also need to have a more machine-like than human-like appearance.”

Webster noted that robots are already replacing humans in many industries and the hospitality sector will simply be a part of the trend.

“The increased usage of robots in industry will meet with resistance from customers and employees in the service industry, as their capabilities increase and they are used to augment or replace human labor,” he said. “Our research clearly shows that respondents would prefer robots to deal with activities that put the human in a dominant position in the human-robot interaction.”

“Consumers’ Attitudes Towards the Introduction of Robots in Accommodation Establishments” explores data gathered from a 2017 survey of 393 Iranian consumers to determine how Iranians perceive the use of robots in hotels and what tasks they want robots and humans to perform.

The study also found:

  • Women are slightly more positive toward robots in general and would accept a higher share of robots in the hotel than men.
  • Respondents under 30 were more skeptical towards the memorability, pleasure, and excitement of their interaction with robots than older respondents.
  • Respondents with lesseducation had higher expectations about the friendliness of robots and were more optimistic about robots’ abilities to work outside the programmed frame.
  • Respondents with more modest tourist experience had much higher expectations about the memorability, pleasure, and excitement of their interaction with robots than tourists who had stayed in hotels more often.
  • Respondents who have more positive attitudes toward service robots in general are more positive toward service robots in hotels in particular, have higher expectations about the human-robot interactions, and are more tolerant of robots’ technical disadvantages.

“It seems that a generally positive attitude toward robots and artificial intelligence gives a person a penchant for accepting robots to be used for particular or special services,” Webster said.

He notes that research on service robots usually focuses on developed economies, including the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea. However, other geographic regions like Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East are neglected in research. This paper tries to partially fill in this gap by looking at the perceptions of service robots in Iran.

The research published in the journal Tourism and was conducted by Webster; Stanislav Ivanov, a faculty member at the Varna University of Management in Bulgaria; and Peyman Seyyedi at Allameh Tabataba’i University in Tehran.