Las Vegas –
The barista tipped a jug of smooth, frothy milk over the latte, pouring it slowly at first, then lifting and tilting the jug in a choreographed dance to draw tulip petals. .
Latte art is a skill that takes months, if not years, to master, but not for this barista powered by artificial intelligence.
Robots of all kinds buzzed through the exhibition halls this week at the annual technology trade show CES in Las Vegas.
Roman Alejo, 34, a barista at the Sahara Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, worries about such innovations. He can’t help but wonder if the clock is ticking on hospitality jobs in the age of AI.
“It’s very scary because tomorrow is not promised,” he said. “A lot of AI is coming into this world. It’s very frightening and very eye-opening to see how humans can think of replacing other humans. there is.”
Just over a month after the Las Vegas casino union approved new contracts for 40,000 members, ending a high-profile battle that drew attention to the threat of AI to union jobs, the world The biggest technology show has once again put these concerns in the spotlight. .
“Technology was a strike issue and one of the last issues to be resolved,” says the secretary and treasurer of the Culinary Workers’ Union, who led the team negotiating a new five-year contract and narrowly avoided more than a year of historic strikes. Director Ted Papageorge said. On the Strip he has 12 hotels and casinos.
Hospitality workers told The Associated Press in interviews during eight months of negotiations that they are willing to take pay cuts during the strike to win stronger job protections from inevitable technological advances. That includes technologies already in place at some resorts, such as self-check-in stations, automated valet ticket services and robot bartenders known as “tipsy robots.”
Mr Pappageorge said the rise of robotics in the hospitality and service industry was a long-standing concern for trade unions. “The difference now is the combination of artificial intelligence and robotics,” he told The Associated Press this week.
Experts say breakthroughs in AI technology are forcing unions to rethink how they negotiate with companies.
Bill Warner, an associate professor in the School of Hospitality at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said unions need to be “more careful” in negotiating for job security.
The types of casino union jobs at risk could be very different in, say, five years when the culinary union’s contract ends.
“What will happen to these people, what rights do they have?” he said. “And what will happen to them if robots take their jobs?”
In the latest contract, the union will loosen so-called safety nets for workers, giving them $2,000 in severance for every year of service and the option to try to move to another part of the company if their job is replaced by technology or AI. obtained. company.
Pappageorge said there is a need to “develop a new language” that protects workers from both today’s technology and “the technology that’s coming.”
“The idea that technology, robotics, artificial intelligence is just running wild, completely uncontrolled, can be incredibly damaging,” Pappageorge said. “So what we have to do is stay ahead of the curve, and CES is the place to do that.”
More than 100 union members attended a trade show this week to scrutinize emerging technology that could put more casino jobs at risk.
And there was a lot of new stuff on the show floor. A robot with a friendly face that completes deliveries at hotels and restaurants. robot masseuse. A bot that can prepare and serve coffee, ice cream, and boba. Powered by AI, smart grills can handle tasks like grilling and grilling without anyone being in the kitchen. And, as one company puts it, chef-like robots are teasing the future of “autonomous restaurants.”
Meng Wang, co-founder of food technology startup Artly Coffee, one of more than 4,000 exhibitors at this year’s CES, said he has no intention of eliminating jobs. Wang said Artly’s autonomous barista bots could help fill the labor shortage in the service industry.
“Barista work is tough. It’s very labor-intensive, long hours, and the pay isn’t very good,” he says. “What we’re doing is not replacing jobs. We’re meeting a market need and bringing specialty coffee to more places.”
But Werner said AI poses a real threat to casino union jobs that don’t require face-to-face interaction with customers, such as housekeeping, food preparation and cooks.
“The risks from automation are significantly reduced when the industry no longer has to worry about the impact on customer service,” he said. This is especially true in crowd-pleasing tourist destinations like the Las Vegas Strip, where customers expect top-notch service and experiences that include the latest trends in technology.
That makes Las Vegas a “good place to test these things out and see how customers react,” he said.
The Culinary Union and its members, like barista Alejo, recognize that the hospitality industry is constantly evolving.
“The innovation is incredible,” Alejo said. “But it’s very scary how everything seems to revolve around technology in today’s world.”
Video producer James Brooks contributed to this report.