Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Losing the human touch?

Artificial Intelligence is still in its early stages, but in gaming questions have already been raised as to whether the industry is losing its personal touch, and if technologies such as these can exacerbate problem gambling. 

Sudhir Kale, CEO of GamePlan Consultants and a marketing/loyalty expert cautions against betting too big on robotics, machines and artificial intelligence in our hospitality-driven industry.

It is only a matter of time before we see robotic concierges (as seen in some hotels), robot dealers, and even AI-driven robot hosts,” said Kale. 

“But as we get increasingly sucked into the promises of big data, sentiment analysis, facial recognition systems, machine learning, and AI, we are facing a real paradox. Technology allows us to understand the customer like never before, but these insights are seldom used to relate to customers in human-to-human interaction.”

Sudhir is an expert in casino loyalty programs. He said that these new technologies, which may save costs and improve efficiencies, lack a critical element for our industry: the “human touch”.

“Automated loyalty kiosks are depriving casinos of that human touch that alone makes guests feel welcome and keeps them coming back.”

In land-based gaming, advancements have been made pairing artificial intelligence with facial recognition systems - not only to identify and tag patrons - but to understand their risk profiles, and categories patrons based on their propensity to ‘bet big’. 

This has raised concerns of whether Artificial Intelligence can exacerbate problem gambling. 

Last year, Macau’s gaming regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) banned the use of artificial intelligence tools that could help casino operators track gamblers more likely to bet big. 

According to a Bloomberg report, this new technology uses algorithms to process the way a customer behaves at a gaming table to determine their appetite for risk. The higher the risk appetite, the more a gambler stands to lose - which means profit for the casino. 

The regulator has taken the side of caution, barring any casinos in its jurisdiction from installing digital surveillance equipment equipped with cameras or facial recognition systems - unless previously approved by the DICJ. 

According to experts, while it may seem that our gaming industry is already powered by Artificial Intelligence, most examples are in fact, simply iterations of Machine Learning technology - which has been around for nearly sixty years already. 

“With Artificial Intelligence being such a buzzword these days, there will be some who will take certain liberties calling their technology ‘intelligent’ when it is not,” explained Earle Hall,  technology expert, futurist and the chief executive of AXESNetwork.

Machine learning is one where a system acquires knowledge or skill through experience. It relies on large data sets and identifies common patterns - which allow it to do a very narrow task, better, explained Hall. 

While it is a subset of AI, the system is merely trial and error where the learning is based on narrowing the false, untrue or error results.

We can see a similar use of this technology in online gaming, such as EveryMatrix’s CasinoEngine, which uses machine learning to power its recommendation engines - putting games the player is most likely to enjoy at the top of its list. 

In the land-based casino industry, machine learning has been used to drive engagement and loyalty, with sophisticated CRM systems deciding the best and most appropriate offers to give to customers at any given time to maximize their stay.

Machine learning technology is not new, but there is constant work being done to improve models, accuracy of predictions, and deliver better decision making. 

That being said, in the end, this form of ‘intelligence’ relies on the set of predicted outcomes - which is less ‘intelligent’ and more ‘learning’ - as opposed to artificial intelligence, says Hall.

Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, describes machines or computers that ‘mimic’ the natural intelligence displayed by humans. It can adapt to new situations and problem solve in ways that machine learning falls short. 

Silicon Valley entrepreneur George Yang, CEO of AI Pros, has been developing an AI-powered chatbot - aimed at replacing costly call-center employees. 

Due to the sheer complexity of the spoken language - which can differ based on culture, gender, past-experiences, emotion, and a limitless amount of factors, it would not be possible to utilize a machine learning system for this task. 

Yang’s work revolves around the use of artificial intelligence and natural language processing. The chatbot is aimed at mimicking a customer service agent, in industries such as hospitality, banking, finance, medical and gaming. It can understand unique jokes, respond to sarcasm, and inflections and tones in real-time. 

Despite this, it will take time before Artificial Intelligence expands out to every corner of our industry. How it will be utilized, and how it will be regulated will be key in determining how it will flourish. 

Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.

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