The future technology of Artificial Intelligence (or Machine Learning) is exciting, scary and arriving at supersonic speed. But how will AI and robots affect future travel?
1. Driverless everything
We have an interesting relationship with driverless vehicles. We accepted driverless trains very easily – London’s DLR, for example, has been trundling around without drivers since 1987.
Driverless cars we’ve been more sceptical about, but seem to have made peace with their inevitability (aids for human drivers like lane assist are pretty much standard in every new car).
But if either of those concepts blows your mind and/or has you feeling a little uneasy in the pant department, just wait until you board a pilotless aeroplane! That’ll feel completely fine, right? But it will almost certainly happen – it kind of does now, to an extent.
The biggest airliners are ‘fly by wire’ planes that are extremely reliant on computers. Autopilot is able to take off and land a plane if required. You also have drones, which aren’t technically pilotless, but the pilot isn’t up front speaking to you in a reassuringly smooth voice.
The problem is, while people aren’t at all comfortable with the thought of unmanned passenger planes, the demand for pilots is outstripping demand. So, we either train more pilots, take fewer flights or say hello to Captain Flybot 3000.
2. Robot hotels
This is actually happening – guess where? That’s right, Wales!
The Vdara Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas uses two robot ‘butlers’ to deliver room service. This Chinese company claims to have created an AI receptionist. Even hotel mega-giants Hilton experimented with a Watson-powered robot concierge called Connie.
Soon, it’ll be the sound of digitally-produced voices apologising for coming in to clean your room while you’re watching BBC World in your pants, and six-armed robots getting your omelette order wrong at breakfast.
But robots aren’t immune to the pitfalls of hospitality employment: the Henn na Hotel had to lay around half off its 243-strong robot workforce because they were creating more problems than they solved.
3. AI travel agents
There’s nothing like the human touch. No font of expertise and experience is currently as efficient and able as the neural networks of the human mind. And this is why we have travel agents: they know more than we do about travel.
But how many of you have booked an entire holiday, spending hundreds or thousands of pounds, without speaking to a human being? Flights, accommodation, transfers, lift passes, restaurant reservations, foot massages, ghost tours, bird-spotting walks, guided raffia sandal-making – it can all be done by your thumb in a matter of minutes.
The next step, logically, is a bridge between the two: an omnipresent army of artificially intelligent travel agents who can find the perfect holiday for you, powered by deep learning and a vast collective knowledge of everything travel-related except what it feels like to get sunburnt.
4. No more passports
We can all dream of a utopian future in which there’s no need for borders, but let’s face facts: it’s not exactly the direction the world is travelling in. The way things are going, your bathroom is going to declare itself an independent state and you’re going to need a visa to take a poo.
So, assuming the future still requires passports, sadly they’re less likely to come in the lovely, traditional, stampable paper form. Biometric passports already have microchips in them: chips that could easily be implanted into your head! Ok, maybe not that, but recognition, be it facial or cornea or fingerprint, could soon be your way through passport control: it’s already being trialled at Changi airport in Singapore.
5. Cleaner, more efficient future travel
You might have heard of smart cities. Super-connected, intelligently-planned urban conurbations aimed at making life an absolute dream, both now and in the future, through the use of technology.
A key element of a smart city is a smart transport system. Everything, from traffic lights to buses to bike-hire schemes, uses artificial intelligence to make people and things move around with less chance of bumping into each other, duplicating journeys or hands coming out of car windows with a middle finger raised.
The more we travel, particularly by air, the more things get complicated. Flying cars might be a bit farther away than we can predict, but a rise ‘flying taxis’ (easily-accessible private jets) isn’t all hard to imagine. In fact, it’s very close indeed. More planes mean more air traffic, which means a greater need for intelligent air traffic control.
And while ‘more planes’ doesn’t sound very environmentally friendly, that AI technology can be used to make all kinds of transport more efficient. Fewer empty planes and trains, less stacking over airports, more intelligent planning of onboard catering (no more fish dishes = less food waste IMO – who eats them?) – it all helps the goal of green tourism.