Chinese netizens cry-laugh after Japanese hotel ‘lays off’ robot staff

2 min read
(Image credit: Weibo/Pear Video)

Chinese netizens have reacted with amusement after the world’s “first robot-staffed hotel,” Japan’s Henn na in Nagasaki, announced that it was decommissioning close to half of its 240 non-human staff due to their inefficiency.

Within 24 hours, a satirical Weibo video on the “layoffs” had gained 6.6 million views and close to 2,000 comments.

Some were creeped out or confused by the hotel’s quirky staff as depicted in the video. “Although their faces are smiling, I feel cold,” one netizen wrote on Weibo.

“What the hell are those dinosaurs,” another commenter posted, referring to two small velociraptors manning the front desk. The robots were programmed to check guests in or out using one of four languages–Japanese, English, Chinese, or Korean.

Unfortunately, they were unable to scan guests’ passports, necessitating human intervention. Humanoid bots used to carry luggage and act as front-desk concierges were also decommissioned due to their inefficiency, as were unhelpful robot “assistants” installed in each room.

“Registration procedure failed. Please wait, staff will help you.” A Chinese error message on the hotel’s passport scanner.  (Image credit: Weibo/Pear Video)

Henn na Hotel decided to get rid of half of 243 machine employees rather than replace them, in part because they sometimes made more work for the human staff.

The reversal of the typical AI-replaces-humans narrative tickled some netizens. “Robots can also lose their jobs,” one commenter wrote, followed by a crying laughing emoji.

Another took a more serious tack: “If you want to invest in robots, technical updates are a very important safeguard.”

The Nagasaki hotel made waves when it opened in 2015, and entered the Guinness Book of World records the next year for being the first robot-staffed hotel. In addition to robot staff, as of 2016 it also supported facial recognition for unlocking rooms.

The recent news of “layoffs” may have struck a chord with Chinese viewers as domestic companies charge forward into the field of AI. Advances in a variety of applications, from autonomous driving to logistics, have spurred worries that robots will take over increasing numbers of human jobs.

However, experts say that for some fields, including translation and food delivery, those concerns are premature. It appears that human-level hotel service can be added to the list.