BY: DANIEL KORN
It’s probably best to just accept the fact that the world we live in IS the future envisioned by 1960’s science fiction writers.
One signifier of this is the increasing use of robots as human replacement, as witnessed at Henn-na Hotel in Nagasaki, Japan. The hotel, which is opening in July of this year, will be staffed by ten humanoid robots—three at the front desk, four porters, one coat check employee, and two cleaners. The robots are provided by Japanese robot company Kokoro, and have unique features despite all being modelled on the general appearance of young Japanese women. The robots have been in development since 2003 and are quite advanced—they can apparently interact with visitors in fluent Japanese, Chinese, English, and Korean, and understand how to react to changes in tone, eye contact, and body language.
They’re also pretty creepy, reaching deep into Uncanny Valley territory. This is the theory by roboticist Masahiro Mori that states that robots are cute when they’re visually abstracted from reality, but get more unsettling as they get closer to looking like humans. It’s an evolution-based psychological tick—since we can tell that they’re not fully human but trying to be, it seems threatening to us, and we’re made uneasy until they become virtually indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood. Actroids—the model of robot that will be used for the hotel—are just at rising action of the valley, nearly convincing but not quite. Their leathery skin, dead eyes, and over-active movements are just wrong enough to feel off.
Luckily, there will also be ten human staff on-hand, but company president Hideo Sawada hopes to eventually have robots make up 90 percent of the workers. There’s other interesting technology in the hotel too, including facial recognition software in lieu of keycards and rooms that can detect body heat and match room temperature accordingly.
All of this is surprisingly cheap, at only 60 bucks a night. Henn-na Hotel is situated within a historical theme park called Huis San Boch, so if you’re ever in Nagasaki, it might be worth a trip; at the very least, you won’t have to tip the bellboy.