In the coming years, one of the most profound changes to our industry – and to our world – will come in the form of artificial intelligence, or AI. AI may sound scary and futuristic, but it’s already here, and being used for some incredible purposes.
It was advanced AI technology that allowed a genius like Steven Hawking to communicate in spite of his deteriorating ALS. Now, some paralysed people depend upon neuron stimulation that allows them to move damaged limbs. With similar technology, it may be possible to control impulses such as overeating or overreacting – a new way to combat obesity or too much sedentary activity, or to help people control venting anger in an unsafe manner. I’ve worked with a few groups who, in concert with physicians and scientists, have developed new ways to help treat those who may be stressed, using devices that can read the balance of the parts of the brain where excitability, stress and fright originate, and designed a system where people can get both personal and AI assistance.
In the beauty and wellness industry, some examples of AI already in use include shopping with virtual mirrors that let you try on makeup, clothes, or even a new hairstyle virtually. Apps that manage stress and anxiety, including HeadSpace for meditation and mindfulness, or nutrition trackers like FoodUcate and virtual trainers like Vi Trainer, are increasingly moving into the wellness space. There seems to be an app for every wellness practice: food and nutrition, fitness, meditating, even communication with a trainer.
Move over Star Wars – a hologram receptionist meets you at the front lobby of the hotel or spa, and a robot delivers your room service order. How about robots who give massages? California-based Massage Robotics is proposing just that, with a full-size robot that can give customised full-body massages. “Naked, are you safer with a stranger or a robot?” the company asks on its crowd-sourcing page. It claims robots will open up the massage market to a whole new group of people, explaining: “A robot will never judge a person’s body, never get tired and never need a tip.”
Do we really want machines that can properly massage our bodies? Perhaps this may be an answer while COVID-19 is still an issue, but what about the need to be near humans – something that has been possible for years? I’d prefer a human masseuse – but reducing infections is truly necessary.
So why AI for wellness? Due to the presence of COVID-19, we may become more dependent on both apps and even AI. Perhaps AI can emulate experiences at health resorts. Could technology help bring the relaxing sound or vibrations of natural springs to people at home? Or could AI deliver the same kinds of experiences we have at the best destination spas? AI might be able to emulate such experiences at destination spas – but is it the same? Would AI even be competition for destination and day spas in the absence of the camaraderie of humans?
It is important to understand how serious AI is to all destination spas, wellness centres, senior homes and day spas for both personnel and patients. The spa and wellness business is changing rapidly, and I am not sure that we will go back to pre-COVID days. The question remains: how can we use AI to enhance mental and physical health? For our industry, there are likely as many questions as answers, but these are important issues all of us should be carefully considering.