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Commentary: The trouble with luxury in the digital era

AI and algorithms do not luxury service make, says Low Ka Wei.

From The St Regis to The Four Seasons, luxury hotels around the world are toying with the idea of replacing concierges with in-suite iPads, on which you could, say, receive recommendations on a gluten-free restaurant. Someone – or something – will respond to you 24/7.

For millennials who grew up with technology, replacing the fallible human with an unerring machine seems like the right development. But at what cost?

Good service goes beyond completing a transaction. At its core remains the human touch, having your needs attended to pre-emptively, intuitively and in a bespoke way. And that requires an empathy that machines simply do not have.

An experienced butler will not only be able to direct you to a hole-in-the-wall where the celiac disease sufferer can satisfy that udon craving, he would be sure to replace the items in your mini bar with those that will not trigger a upset tummy.

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The crux of it is this: for those who can afford everything, the only thing that money cannot buy is time. While you are not able to clone yourself and have your doppelganger handle the menial tasks, you can hire trusty servants to essentially run your life for you. In reality, though, good help is hard to find – which goes some way in explaining why the top personal assistants draw a six-figure annual salary.

For sure, technology that complements and enhances service delivery can only be a good thing. And perhaps someday artificial intelligence would be so advanced it can seamlessly mimic human intelligence. But till that day comes, the rise of the machine needs to be called out for what it is: a cost-cutting measure that reduces what could be a delightful interaction into a transaction that merely satisfies.

So the next time you check in, put down the tablet and pick up the phone instead.

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(Related: 6 out of 11 super penthouses on sale globally are located in Singapore)

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash