There seems to be a renewed interest lately for companion robots, “intelligent” friends that learn to know you and can assess your needs. More than just “technology at your service”, there appears to be a real aim to create a bond between human and machine. Was this sparked by Disney’s Big Hero 6 and the lovable Baymax? Maybe. (If you haven’t seen this film, stop reading and watch it immediately!)
Jibo, the “world’s first social robot for the home”, was funded within only 4 hours of its campaign launch and raised over $3.5 million through Indiegogo. It is now due to ship later this year. Musio, which was also recently funded, is announced for next year.
Not just a voice assistant, Musio is capable of having back and forth conversations and remembering previous ones. This little friend is very curious and will continuously ask questions to learn about its surroundings and build its own emotions. Musio is Open Source and compatible with Android and Arduino; it comes with 3 types of “brains” and relies on the Muse AI by AKA Study.
Musio will hear, learn and understand your requests and questions. It also comes with accessories with which you can feed him stars. Appealing for all age ranges, Musio can be a toy (somewhere between Tamagotchi and Furby), a personal assistant, or a ground for experiment for makers, since it can be programmed with Arduino; to control appliances in your home, for example.
Buddy is also hoping to join Jibo and Musio on this wave of popularity, but Artificial Intelligence isn’t to everyone’s taste and has for decades raised concerns of privacy and human rights. A few months ago, a 3-year-old Google patent for intelligent toys was picked up on and heavily criticised. Deemed creepy, the patent is for Internet-connected toys and teddy bears that can look at you and listen when you’re talking to them, and then produce an appropriate response. How do their idea differ from the aforementioned robots? Maybe the anthropomorphism is more pronounced and makes humans uncomfortable. What will happen when a robot with a human form is able to think on its own and can perform tasks as well or even better than us? This is what the series Humans, on Channel 4 explores (Sundays, 9pm). Are we becoming obsolete? It seems like a long way in the future before we can make perfect human copies and are unable to distinguish a person from a Replicant (Blade Runner); but there is progress in this area nonetheless.
So, AI, cute or creepy?