Do You Like It?

A travel agency –wait, what? Do travel agencies still exist? With plenty of apps happy to help us find just the right destination, flight, hotel room, and rental car, what could human beings still do in a travel agency?

Travel agents are definitely on the list for automation — a 64% chance in the near future, according to However, the same website classifies travel agents as “totally safe” from literal robot takeover. They’re at just 10% risk, like respiratory therapy technicians and physicists.

Compare that with nuclear reactor operators (95% risk) or models (98%).

Internova’s ad gives a clue to the reason people still want to work with human beings when they book a vacation.

The uncanny valley

There is some evidence that the pandemic made people more receptive to robots. Contact-free service became more appealing as human contact reminded us more of COVID-19 than of warmth and friendliness. Curbside pickup or automated delivery to our doorsteps grew to feel normal and convenient.

But this ad shows us the “the uncanny valley.” This is the creeped-out feeling we get when something is a lot like a human being, but not quite right. This feeling explains why we are uncomfortable around dead bodies — or for some people, clowns and dolls. The robot in this ad (undoubtedly played by a bona fide human being) has a not-quite human voice hands that dangle by his (its?) side, and a face that doesn’t quite show emotion.

The pandemic affected travel

People did a lot less traveling than usual during the pandemic. For those who did travel, however, the benefits of human advocates became a lot more obvious. Many people ended up with canceled flights and no reimbursements. Stuck in foreign climes coping with confusing restrictions. Stranded by constantly changing schedules.

Travel agents have special skills and knowledge that can help…or they can at least be more compassionate than a recording on your phone.

That’s the message that the creepy ad offers us. The robot, which has no counterpart in the real world, seems to be malevolent rather than just unconcerned, but that’s the skill of the human actor showing. The ad taps into our discomfort with robots on a visceral level rather than reminding us of any actual problems or threatening us with a robot takeover.

Are industrial robots the same?

Broadly speaking , industrial robots aren’t human enough to stir those eerie feelings. We can foresee a lot of problems if industrial robots became much more human looking. We would worry that they were working too much. We might think that they were spying on us, or blame them for taking our jobs away.

We’re better off letting our industrial machinery look like machinery.

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