Female robots, more common among humans

People feel more comfortable chatting with a female bot, rather than a male bot, when interacting with bot entities that provide services in a hotel, according to a new Washington State University study.

The work, which is based on a survey of nearly 170 people in the context of virtual interactions with bots, also demonstrated that customers prefer interactions with bots described as having more human aspects. The results are described in a study published in International Journal of Hospitality Management.

“People tend to feel more comfortable being served by women, because of the stereotypes that exist about service jobs,” researcher Soobin Seo says.

“These gender stereotypes seem to be transmitted to robots and robot interactions, and are amplified when robots look more like humans.”

Even before the pandemic, the hospitality industry was struggling with a high rate of labor turnover, and Ms. Seo noted that some hotels had turned to robots and automation to perform many tasks, from washing dishes to cleaning rooms, through customer service, especially while welcoming customers and moving luggage. .

Examples range from female robots called “Piper” at the Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, to the fully automated chain FlyZoo, China, where customers only manipulate robots and features using artificial intelligence.

As part of the study, probe participants had to evaluate one of four scenarios related to interactions with an AI-powered robot in a hotel. In one story, they are greeted by a robot named “Alex”, who is described as having a human-like face and body. The second scenario is identical in every respect except that the robot is female and is called “Sarah”. In the other two scenarios, the gender of the robots is determined again, but they are also described as having a “machines” appearance, with an interactive screen, not a face.

The respondents were then asked to rank their feelings about the interactions. Participants who evaluated scenarios using robots found the experience more enjoyable and fulfilling than those who had to interact with male robots. The preference for a female robot was more pronounced when the robots appeared to be more human.

But Ms. Seo offers a caveat: Replacing human employees with robots, regardless of gender, raises questions that need more work. For example, if a robot malfunctions or stops working properly, such as losing baggage or making a booking error, customers may want help from a human employee.

The researcher also looks at how the personality of robots affects customers’ perceptions, such as whether a robot is outgoing and talkative, or introverted and quiet.

She believes that these are important considerations, both for AI developers, and even for industry employers, who should take these aspects into account when it comes to wider adoption of bots.

“We may start to see more robots replacing humans, in the future, in hotels and restaurants, so we may find that some of the psychological relationships that we have, as part of human interactions, are also built in the context of interactions with robots.”

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