Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers Journal, February 2018, Butlers In the Media

Butlers in The Media

by Steven Ferry

IIMB Chairman Steven Ferry

Ideas for a future home include Emily, a hologram butler who obeys voice commands to turn on lighting, air conditioning, music, videos, and more: After a bathroom visit, for instance, she may remind a houseguest to drink more water based on the PH reading taken and relayed by the toilet—technology we are assured is being worked on by the King of over-the-top toilets, Toto, who already offer a completely automated, no-hands experience.

A Chinese-made “Robot Butler” can interact with voice commands, dance, play football, recognize faces, patrol homes, interact with the employer’s computer—and while this may or may not be very useful in the home, it shows a continuing trend of increasing dexterity and computational power.

For a change, a robot has not been named after butlers, but chefs, as in a robot chef called GammaChef—a machine like a large coffee maker—which puts together an entire dish of perfectly cooked ingredients from scratch. As reported by the writer, “The meat was perfectly cooked and tender, the pasta was al dente, and the aromas and flavors were rich. It was perfect.” But it only cooks things in a pot, and obviously has to be given the ingredients. In effect, it is like a bread maker—an automation of some functions.

The drive of machines/robots/automation toward doing everything for us, whether it is work or driving or farming or our own ablutions, will result in what? Certainly, it allows more dangerous, menial, repetitious, or less pleasant work to be done by robots, but does it free up those who did that work before, to do more “meaningful” or satisfying work?

What is being missed is that the most important element is to have some work to do, which gives purpose and an ability to give something back to society in exchange for the support society gives them—and in this case, any work is better than none. So, are the minimum-wage workers who are being let go (by fast food companies, for instance, when the minimum wage in the US was raised to $15 per hour), so that robots can do the same work for far less, actually finding work, or are they just ending up on welfare?

Will the drive to insert intelligent robots and automation throughout the workforce and world, push us all into being useless eaters like Jabba the Hutt of Star Wars fame—complete and obscene effect of life and everything in it?

Maybe, but before we become too worried, let’s consider something the robotics industry would prefer stayed under the carpet: several reports of robots failing and being fired: one drowned itself in a pool in a mall while another ran over and injured a toddler in a mall; another was fired for driving away homeless people from a public right of way, instead of from the grounds of its “employer;” another was fired from a Scottish supermarket when it would assist shoppers asking for directions by saying, “The milk is in the fridge section” or ignoring them because he could not hear their requests over the ambient noise. When it was demoted to enticing shoppers to try samples, it was completely outperformed by a human. In the end, the robot was just another automated, no-life, no engagement communication, like any other sign in a store.

Robot waiters were fired from a Chinese restaurant for spilling drinks and soups on diners and constantly breaking down. Two other restaurants in the country that had gone 100%-robot had to close down because of the robots’ inability to perform basic actions like pouring drinks or taking orders—and presumably the price tag of purchasing the robots in the first place—something like $7,000 US, not to mention maintaining them. With 1.2 billion or so people in the country, it is hard to see why a waiter or two could not be hired and trained.

The pattern for the next 10-15 years will be various companies looking towards creating consciousness in robots, the idea being that “if you make a machine with emotions it will be easier for people to get on with.”

And there is the rub: the people who make robots don’t have the first idea what emotions and consciousness are, otherwise they would quit trying to make matter possess them. It never has, it never will. That’s why it is matter! One cannot program life and consciousness and emotions or imbue matter with it, and have it be anything other than the physical approximations created by the real live person with consciousness who programmed or built that machine.

Finally, an interesting article from the video-gaming industry, entitled “Stop thinking of yourself as a game producer. Think of yourself as a butler.” Advice given to those writing the software to interest players includes, “Think of your players as a family in a big country house. It’s your job to anticipate their every whim, to understand what makes them happy, and to provide that service before they even realised they needed it. Being a butler isn’t a one-time thing. You’re thinking about your clients and how to improve their lives 24 hours a day. That’s a good analogy for how live ops [constantly tweaking and evolving a game so that it offers the best possible experience for the player over the longest possible period of time] should work for a modern game.”


The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.”