Jibo, the social robot

jibobreazeal

Jibo, touted as the world’s first social robot companion, and has been developed for family home companionship. Jibo was co-founded by Cynthia Breazeal, of the Rodney Brooks social robotics lab at MIT. Public and global interest in Jibo is enormous as evidenced by Jibo securing $3.7 million dollar in pre-order sales on the fund-raising website Indiegogo by December, 2015.

A social robot is a bot designed to engage its human user in an emotional way by expressing empathy and the ability to read the emotional state of the human users around it.  The design of Jibo includes two high-resolution stereo cameras, six microphones, a pair of speakers, an LCD touch screen, two cooling fans, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules, LED lights, touch sensors, and an ARM-based embedded processor running Linux.  Jibo is a little taller than a toaster, and is shaped a little bit like a desk fan or table lamp. The body consists of three roughly cylindrical sections, one each for the base, torso, and head, respectively – which connect at an angle rather than horizontally.  The result is that rotating these sections relative to one another causes the body to appear to bend into a variety of expressive poses.  Jibo recognizes (remembers) faces it encounters, understands what people say, and is able to respond in a friendly manner.  According to VP of design, Blade Kotelly, four design techniques contribute to Jibo’s empathic and engaging character:

  • Spoken phrases, body animation, screen animation, light ring to show motivation, tone and state of being.
  • Text-to-speech and sound effects: “Instead of saying I love you, maybe he can make a sound.”
  • User experience interactions: “If you have a robot in your home that is making mistakes and you say, ‘F- You,’ maybe he’ll look sad, lean down, and say ‘I’m very sorry.’  Then you think, ‘I don’t want to do that to this robot.’ Maybe that’s good in your home because then you build up those attitudes where you don’t say those things to each other.”
  • Synchronized physical movement, screen animation, and voice:
    “Once you have that synchronization, a very little bit becomes very effective […] This is not what happens with a cell phone.”

Jibo’s main purpose is to assist busy families coordinate with one another and to communicate with the outside world.  For example, at the start of the day, Jibo may remind its family of important events and tasks scheduled for the day.  Family member can also tell Jibo about new and emergent tasks/appointments that need to be accomplished, and Jibo will in turn, update the family schedule or to-do list accordingly.  Jibo can also be a photographer, it can help with home security, it can read stories to your children, it can be a learning companion for your children, and it can help you maintain an exercise program.

Although enthusiasm for Jibo is high, at present Jibo’s functionality is quite limited prompting some to ask if the price of the device is good value for the money spent. In addition to at least one distribution delay, recently Jibo announced that international orders will be cancelled entirely for the time being due to voice recognition challenges in foreign (to North America) countries. Like most voice recognition technology, this means connecting to a server to process the data the robot “hears”. Jibo found that the US-based servers would cause sever latency issues for international users, exacerbating Jibo’s struggle to understand accented English and contributing to a substandard experience.

Sources:

Smart Sex Toys (or Teledildonics)

imagesWomanizer Pro, We-Vibe 4 Plus, Magic Motion Dante/Candy, KIIROO Pearl and Onyx, blueMotion Nex 2, and Lovense Lush Vibrator represent the increasingly collaborative (and lucrative) relationship between the sex toy industry, haptic technology, mobile and wireless technology, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Sometimes referred to as Teledildonics or less frequently, Cyberdildonics, marketing often promotes these products in terms of the benefits they bring to long distance relationships, in addition to  discreet public play.

Teledildonic products allow the toy-owner/user to share their sexual experience with intimate others via a smart device (i.e., bluetooth or wifi), the Internet, and a smartphone app.  Apps allow the product to be remotely controlled and are often combined with in-app voice, chat and video capability, that allows “excitement to build”. Smart toys work by connecting the toy to an internet connection using the product app; messaging or calling your partner using the product app. You are encouraged to ‘tease’ and ‘chat’ and otherwise engage with your remote partner and when you are ready to engage in sexual activity, simply begin using the sex toy and the toy will respond to your use by sending feedback (about your movements) to your partner. Lovense products offer three ways to engage in long distance sex using their products: 1. your sex toy controls your partner’s toy 2. your partner’s sex toy controls your toy 3. both toys sync and interact with each other.

The public attitude toward technologically mediated sexual practices is often negative, especially in relation to  the increasing collaboration between AI and sex dolls. For example, the 2nd annual Congress on Love and Sex with Robots  was deemed illegal and abruptly cancelled in 2015, presumably because it was believed there would be actual sex taking place between robots and well, people. “There’s nothing scientific about sex and robots,” inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar told a press conference, explaining why. “It is an offense to have anal sex in Malaysia [let alone sex with robots].” A group of robot ethicists have launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots, seeking a ban on the development of robotic sex companions, specifically those made in the likeness of children, on the grounds that human-sexbot sex degrades human relationships and reinforces a view of women as sexual objects. “Persons are not things and things are not persons. Supporting practices that present persons as things and things as persons will continue to impact on the real lived lives of human beings in the most horrific ways.” Other criticisms of intimate human-robot interaction argue that such relations are not at all authentic and are therefore morally problematic.

Other issues this sector is confronting, includes the technologies’ vulnerability to hackers. Software firm, Trend Micro, has warned that sex toys connecting to the Internet are likely vulnerable to cyber attacks/hacks. Further, when devices are in use, the toys may use its internet connectivity to regularly send information back to its manufacturer. For example, We-Vibe 4 Plus sends the device’s temperature every minute, and lets the manufacturer know each time a user changes the device’s vibration level. The company could easily figure out some seriously intimate personal information like when you get off, how long it takes, and with what combinations of vibrations.

Ethics of sex toys aside, as Internet of Things (IoT) devices entering homes in many ways including, security cameras, smart thermostats and smartphone-controlled appliances, such as personal sex toys, the opportunities for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities in private networks is increasing as are the opportunities for corporations to collect ever more data about its users.

Archiving Ourselves: Technology and Lifelogging

Steve Mann, is generally considered to be the pioneer of wearable camera technology and coined the term “sousveillance” to describe individually controlled camera intended to subvert wide-spread institutional surveillance. Over time however, personal recording devices intended to be used to resist institutional surveillance has given way to recording devices being used as consumer products.

Ubiquitous facebooking, tweeting, and instagraming of the endless selfie, foodie or baby moments are indicators of a culture engaging in sometimes hourly, daily or weekly documenting and archiving of daily life. In some ways the constant stream of Flickr images, blog posts, and pic-twits are merely the updated versions of the analog photo album, journal and scrapbook.

This practice is increasingly supported by technologies that seem to facilitate the continuous capturing, documenting, and archiving of daily life. Lifelogging, as it sometimes referred to, involves the wearing of certain types of technology in order to capture all or large portions of the wearers’ life. Mark Krynsky provides an extensive list here of the many many tools that may be used engage in lifelogging.

Lifelogging may involve the visual capture of experiences and people encountered in day to day life. We are by now familiar with the sea of cell phones snapping photos at concerts and festivals and other special occasions. Some products such such as the Narrative Clip and The Autographer allow wearers

Autographer

to continuously (i.e., every 30 seconds with the Narrative Clip) and automatically captures images unfolding around them as they move through their everyday lives.

Lifelogging may also involve the collecting of information related to the body, such as sleep patterns, physical activity, weight management and even the quality of day to day moods cross referenced with activity. Samsung’s Gear Fit, Fitbit and Mood Panda are technologies that aim to collect body related data.

Reviews of these products suggest that such devices, while convenient and responsive, tend to raise complex issues related to privacy and disclosure and at times made both the wearer and the device subjects uncomfortable. For example, it is possible to wear such devices in such a way that people around you are not aware that they are being recorded. However, peers, colleagues and friends may feel that their privacy is being intruded upon.

Lifelogging promises to help us preserve important personal memories; increase our ability to remember things both in the short-term and the long-term; and aid in the scientific exploration of the connection between memory and well-being. This said, such technologies push important ethical and legal issues to the fore. With respect to the law, while it is permissible to take photos and videos in public spaces for personal use in many countries, these laws tend to vary by place. However, even though something may be technically legal, this does not make it socially appropriate or ethical. For instance, many people feel uncomfortable being openly recorded with such devices as Google Glass (think: “Glasshole”). Such technologies have the potential to shift our present understanding of what is regarded as socially acceptable uses of ubiquitous recording devices and will force us to balance our right to privacy and our strong desire to preserve our precious memories.

Marionettes Meet Robots

A clothing retailer at Tokyo’s airport now features MarionetteBots in their storefront.  The MarionetteBot is part mannequin and part robot.  Using Kinect technology, wires and motors, the Bots are able to mimic the body movements of passersby. Far from eliciting the uncanny and uncomfortable responses (roboticists refer to this as the uncanny valley) from the public, people featured here seem very willing to engage with the MarionetteBot and seem to regard them as pleasurable and entertaining. Perhaps it is the conscious use of marionette string that provides a bit of comfort against the sudden animation of the MarionetteBot. Very clever and charming, I see this as yet another small encroachment of robotics into daily life. This video also reminds me the 1987 film, Mannequin (Kim Cattrell) as well as the more recent Lars and the Real Girl (2007) with its emphasis on the fantasy of high fashion and aesthetic beauty.

The advertising agency who conceived of the MarionetteBots is TBWA Haduhodo and the Marionettes were created by Shoichiro Matsuoka.

Sources:

http://www.businessinsider.com/ad-of-the-day-these-store-front-mannequins-in-japan-mimic-the-movements-of-passerbys-2013-2
http://creativity-online.com/work/united-arrows-marionettebot/30727
http://agencyportfolio.campaignasia.com/CaseStudyCampaign/333363,case-study-united-arrows-uses-interactive-mannequins-to-engage-window-shoppers.aspx#.