The Robot Spa


If they can train you to do it, then eventually they will train a computer to do it.

Naval Ravikant


Many industries are thinking and talking about a world in which robots replace humans in the workforce. As just one example, self-driving cars have the potential to displace a huge number of people globally from their current jobs. Taxi drivers, bus drivers, long haul truckers. All of these jobs will almost certainly disappear. But it doesn’t stop there.

Self-driving vehicles, in theory, won’t crash. So why would we need car accident insurance? Say goodbye to all those jobs. What about traffic lights? They’re just for us humans. Robots won’t need them. The folks who make traffic lights better think about a new job in the future too. Same with the street signs that warn us of speed limits, sharp bends and slippery roads. No longer needed. All these jobs gone, just because someone invented a robot that could drive a car better than we can.

But whenever I talk to people in Spa Land, they’re not worried.

“Robots can’t replace us. We’re selling human touch. There’s no substitute for a good massage therapist.”

Hmmm? I wouldn’t be so certain.

Selling vs Buying

Firstly, let’s think about what we are really selling. More importantly, let’s think about what our customers are buying. Spas don’t sell human touch. They sell how you feel as a result of that human touch. For most clients, what they are buying is the tension relief for tired muscles. Or the stress relief of taking a time out to clear our mind. In the case of a facial treatment, the client is buying what that product and treatment does for their skin.

Are we really naïve enough to believe that there won’t one day soon enough be robots who can do that at least as good as we can?

Massage Chair of Tomorrow

On any given weekend, in a shopping mall near you – at least in Asia – you will find a special promotion happening for massage chairs. Companies like OSIM, Ogawa, Gintel, etc., make a lot of money convincing people these chairs are just like having your own personal massage therapists in your lounge room. Frankly, I have never had what I would consider even a half-decent massage from any of these chairs.

But again, it would be ignorant to assume that advances in sensor technology and finger-like manipulation machines won’t some day be able to deliver on this promise.

Smart Clothing

Never mind the massage robots and the chairs, one day soon your clothes will do lots of this work for you. Tiny embeddable sensors will recognise when your neck and shoulder muscles are tensing up. Your Smart Shirt will then zap the trouble spot with a dose of heat or vibration or cold or whatever it has worked out is needed to solve your problem.

Everything discussed here exists today. We’re just a few more degrees of development and refinement away from becoming obsolete.


PS: The Global Wellness Economy Monitor estimated we need another 400,000 spa therapists by 2020. I wonder how that equation changes if we embrace robots?