The next time you find yourself exchanging words with some
travel-site entity, ASTA thinks you should know with certainty whether you're
talking to a human being or a machine powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
"I firmly believe that when you're talking to a piece
of software, you should know that it's a piece of software, and I don't think
that's a whole lot to ask," said Zane Kerby, ASTA's president and CEO.
As technologies that employ AI become increasingly common in
the form of voice assistants, chatbots and more, ASTA is placing a heightened
focus on getting involved with shaping potential rules and regulations
surrounding AI in human interfaces.
Though the concept of AI has been around for years, the
technology has only recently progressed to the point where it is having an
impact on consumers' lives on a regular basis, Kerby said.
Kerby is pushing for clear identifiers so that consumers
know when they are interacting with a computer as opposed to with a human,
especially when it comes to travel agents.
ASTA's examination of AI is still in its early stages,
according to Eben Peck, executive vice president for advocacy. The Society has
engaged in some discussions on Capitol Hill.
"Based on initial conversations, I believe when people
up there think about AI, they're thinking about stuff like self-driving cars
and self-driving trucks," Peck said. "An initial early objective is
to get travel into this conversation, and that's going to be what we try to do
at the start."
At the moment, the technology is still new, and "there's
not a whole lot on the books" from a regulatory perspective, Peck said.
There is some movement on the subject, with an AI Caucus now established in
Congress and a bill introduced in December that would create a federal advisory
committee on AI.
"The regulations have got to catch up to where the
market is," Kerby said. "Because of the money being poured in, the
market is moving much faster. It happens with most technologies. The market is
going to move a lot faster than the regulations and even legislation."
ASTA's goal is to keep the travel industry at the top of
regulators' minds. For example, Peck said, the Society will push for AI that is
used to sell travel to meet the same standards that apply to agents. One issue
in particular is the number of disclosures agents have to make when selling
If a travel agent has to do it, the AI should too, he said. "Otherwise
it's going to be an uneven playing field."
The Society also acknowledges that some forms of AI will be
very valuable to travel agents from a business perspective.
Mark Meader, ASTA's senior vice president for industry
affairs, said, "There is opportunity for agencies to look at [AI
technology] so it can benefit them with the more simple and mundane tasks that
they do today."
Already, larger and more corporate-focused agencies have
started using AI technology, and Meader predicted it will become more
affordable and common for smaller agencies in the near future.
Casto Travel in San Jose, Calif., currently uses an
AI-powered chatbot in its app for corporate travelers. When the bot doesn't
know an answer, a human agent steps in. President and CEO Marc Casto said the
chatbot does not specifically identify itself to users in the app, but clients
are told the app utilizes a bot and how it works.
"We do not hide the fact from our clients as to what it
is; they understand that it's a chatbot," Casto said. "We also want
to ensure that there's a quality of service that we can guarantee behind it,
and that's why we have people monitoring the conversations."
Casto, who is also co-chairing a new technology-focused ASTA
task force, said the group will certainly take Kerby's concerns into
At the moment, most technologies using bots in the travel
space don't hide the fact that they are bots, according to John Ische,
president of Trisept Solutions. Trisept uses AI for a search function in its
Xcelerator product and has considered using both agent- and consumer-facing
Ische was also on ASTA's AI panel.
"In today's world, I think most people, when they're
engaged with a chat, I think they know that they're talking to a chatbot, not
talking to a person," he said. "I don't think there are too many
times where it's disguised."
But going forward, Ische said, it will likely get more
difficult to detect whether a chatbot or a person is talking. That raises a
question of liability, especially for travel companies, and it's something for
the industry to consider.
"The liability is the same whether you're talking to a
person or talking to the chatbot," Ische said. "Ultimately, if the
chatbot gives the customer some bad information, bad advice, the company whose
chatbot did that is still on the hook for it."
Kerby said ASTA's goal is to have a hand in helping shape
future regulations to protect the agency community.
"We want to be there as the rules of the road are being
formulated," Kerby said. "We want to make sure that we're protecting
ASTA members and the investment they've made in their knowledge base and in
their local supplier contacts and networks."