Switching off: AI and the future of holidaying

Signal post, July 2020.

In the Signal posts we discuss signals of change – concrete events, shared experiences and current developments – that give us hints of what might be possible in the future.

Start the day with a perfect omelette! Engineers from the University of Cambridge in collaboration with domestic appliance company Beko used machine learning to train a robot chef to make omelettes, which turn out to be a challenging task from AI and robotics perspectives. People tend to order more food and taste new meals in restaurants when on holiday, which may result in substantial amount of food waste.​​ GreenBytes is using AI to analyze sub-optimal ordering practices and thus reducing waste.

When planning a holiday, we often think about travelling to a lovely place, where we can relax and have refreshing experiences for few weeks. The pandemic outbreak is already changing how we think, act and travel, and many of the after-effects on society will be psychological in nature: the desire to travel may not disappear but may change as people will be looking for safe holidaying options. If social distancing and avoiding crowded indoor places continues, we may see rise in preferences for hitting the road and enjoying outdoor experiences. Camping is trendy as it combines practical essentials, privacy spot, and reconnecting to nature. Seattle startup Cabana pitches vanlife vacations as travel alternative during pandemic, and such temporary offers may be here to stay. Camping apps are certainly in high demand, as well as caravans, campers and camping gear. The camping app the Dyrt offers more than 500,000 listings, reviews, and tips for campsites across the U.S.

Rental cottages in the forest and near lake or river are another hot commodity that provides perfect escape from the urban noise and crowds. In Finland, demand for summer cottages skyrocketed during the pandemic crisis, with about 100,000 weekly searches. Although enjoying the great outdoors is often pictured as tech-free or ‘digital detox’, it also includes the ethos of being active and finding ways to be healthy for longer, which may point to the use of activity tracker or other wearable technology.

Air quality in cities is improving globally, so short urban breaks may grow in popularity, enabled by technology. How about a scenic excursion with an autonomous air taxi? The Chinese autonomous aerial vehicle company EHangobtained world’s first commercial pilot operation approval of passenger-grade autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) for air logistics uses from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, and announced a passenger drone-themed hotel.Tourism industry has been using AI to provide personalized experience, ranging from AI concierges in hotels, such as Hilton and IBM Pilot “Connie”, to optimized disruption management for handling delays or disruptions.

What if we can take the trip Berlin-Paris for an hour, Helsinki-Stockholm for 30 min, or Abi-Dhabi to Dubai for 12 min? As the meaning of travelling is changing, hyperloop or supersonic travel may become mainstream in the future if safety is ensured. The Spanish start-up Zeleros, one of the recent winners of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) awards, raised €7 million to lead the development of hyperloop in Europe. However, the pandemic experiences are already affecting public acceptance and developments of new public transport means as safety is a key issue facing future travel. According to some tourism experts, people may prefer to stay close to familiar healthcare system and thus prefer domestic holidaying that support local ecosystems and communities. The impact of AI on the tourism sector has been studied systematically. Research indicates that AI is using data to learn about holidaymakers’ behaviors, preferences, interests and inclinations, and is using this information to offer customized suggestions for travel destinations that fit our needs. Although “AI enhances tourism experiential services it cannot surpass the human touch, which is an essential determinant of experiential tourism”.

In his book Humankind: A Hopeful History, the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman makes an argument that our assumptions about human nature are fundamental for designing institutions: “what you assume about other people is often what you get out of them”. The same is applicable for technology design as well: if AI is designed and implemented with the belief that humans are inherently decent, this can work for the common good in the future because AI is in turn shaping the human practices and experience. The computer scientist Stuart Russell reminded that to prevent harm, AI needs to be human compatible and its off-switch should always be accessible. Acts of kindness are really contagious: how to create AI that helps spreading good vibes into the society in the future?

Happy summer holidays!

The writers: Nadezhda Gotcheva, Raija Koivisto and Nina Wessberg (VTT)