How brands can utilise AI to enhance the connoisseur’s luxury experience.
By Ashwin Rajagopalan
In October last year, the world’s sixth richest man was slightly taken aback when he received a response for his post from a Hollywood A-lister. Robert Downey Jr. volunteered to be the voice of Jarvis, a serious experiment in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) space by Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. Downey’s offer came with a condition, that the money paid for his voice would be donated to charity. Zuckerberg might have been mildly rattled, but his response was bang on, “This just got real.”
By December, Zuckerberg posted on Facebook that his AI system could perform quite a few basic tasks (through voice and text recognition)—tweaking the temperature of the room, turning the lights down and opening doors. Jarvis can also double up as a language teacher and keep an eye on your schedule. But no, Jarvis can’t fix a ‘pick-me-up’ for that Friday night hangover. For that you still need Jeeves.
AI has been a human obsession for years now. In simple terms, it refers to a machine that mimics cognitive functions that only human minds are known to perform like learning and problem solving. In 1973, Michael Crichton wrote and directed a visionary film — Westworld. The film takes place in a fictional wild west-themed amusement park manned by Android hosts who can do almost anything the park’s high-paying guests demand of them. The film has just sparked a new HBO TV series of the same name, a clear indication that AI is one of the world’s hottest tech trends. Jarvis was inspired by Ironman’s assistant and was one of Zuckerberg’s pet project for 2016.
Aloft Hotels unveiled A.L.O., an E-butler in their Cupertino hotel in end-2014. This robot, dressed in a shrink-wrapped suit, could deliver drinks in rooms without ‘bumping’ into guests. A.L.O. came equipped with a touchscreen—guests could key in their feedback instead of offering a tip. It was a small beginning, but we haven’t seen luxury hotels seriously take the plunge. The only notable exception—the Henn-na ( Japanese for ‘strange’) hotel in Nagasaki that is staffed by some strange looking robots (including a dinosaur).
Most consumers are truly excited about the possibilities offered by AI. A recent global study by Sonar (a part of JWT) revealed that consumers are interested in how AI will be deployed in luxury retail. 72 per cent of millennials in the US and 64 per cent of millennials in Britain believe that AI will be able to accurately predict what they want, and most respondents would respect a brand which is willing to give the technology a serious shot.
This explains the success of Echo, Amazon’s smart speaker with the AI expertise of Alexa (Amazon’s voice assistant) baked into it. Alexa seems to be ahead of its peers such as Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana in the digital assistant space, but our experience with Google Pixel smartphone suggests that Google Assistant is the fastest learner out there.
Quite a few brands have started dabbling with AI, especially in the automobile space. But so are other sectors. The North Face has developed Fluid Expert Personal Shopper powered by IBM’s Watson cognitive technology, which enables users to experience an intuitive search experience courtesy its natural language capability. Watson also found its way into Yoox, Net-a-Porter’s e-commerce platform. The technology improves search functions by studying customer browsing history and purchasing patterns. It then sorts the products and provides customers with shopping recommendations.
Sephora rolled out an AI-based app that recreates an in-store experience online. Consumers can upload a photo whilst in conversation with a Sephora Visual Artist. The app uses facial recognition and recommends the most compatible shade and products from the brand’s collection.
We are certainly far from creating an AI-powered robot which can do all the things Bertie Wooster’s valet, Jeeves, did for him in the PG Wodehouse novels. Fix drinks, provide information, and counsel on a host of matters while dodging rich, yet annoying aunts. But developments like Jarvis clearly suggest that AI is ready to move from the realm of fantasy to the real world, and luxury brands seem all set to get on the AI speedboat.