In the Black Mirror episode Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too; Miley Cyrus plays a tormented artist trapped in an intelligent personal companion.
For those present that have not seen the episode, please step off whatever automobile, train, or airplane that you are presently on and catch up.
In the near future Miley Cyrus is Ashley, an amazingly successful pop star and idol to the lonely teenager Rachel. Luckily for Rachel, advancements in technology have permitted Ashley’s handlers to replicate her mind within the computer of a small android. Rachel receives the Ashley android as a birthday gift and the android coaches Rachel into singing.
Meanwhile the real Ashley is in a power struggle with her manager for control of the enterprise. But before Ashley can fire her manager, she is abruptly drugged. Back at Rachel’s home, her sister Jack jailbreaks Ashley after the android crashes.
With Ashley’s virtual mind restored, the android leads Rachel and Jack on a daring rescue mission.
In our modern post truth society, the distinction between reality and fiction can be tricky to discern at times.
However, rumors are circulating that Amazon is working on a complete reinvention of their popular Alexa smart speaker.
The story is that their smart speaker is on the cusp of evolving into a whole new mobile robot, Vesta. In Roman mythology, Vesta is the god of home and family. The robot is reported to be capable of full mobility on wheels and is fitted with vision guided AI. Just as with the existing Echo, the robot would respond to voice commands.
Just a moment. Silicon Valley has been down this road before. Last year was a bad year for robotics.
The first casualty was Jibo, a Pixar-ish robot intended to be your social companion. With the capacity of recognizing the face of up to fifteen people; the robot could greet you personally, twerk, and even answer your questions. Jibo also achieved recognition from Time as the top twenty five inventions of 2017.
Next to fall was Kuri. This penguin like robot could record surveillance, your selfies, play music, and read your audiobooks. Kuri could also answer your questions. These features earned Kuri a strong showing at CES 2018 for two years.
Finally there was Aibo. While it was originally quite successful in Japan, Sony pulled the plug on the robotic dog in 2014. Aibo was later resurrected by Sony in the United States in 2017 to much fanfare at CES 2018. Despite its sparkly blue eyes and facial recognition, Aibo too failed to establish a market.
If Vesta is to succeed, Amazon will have to revolutionize the assistant to the same degree that Apple reinvented the iPhone twelve years ago. While I can’t claim inside knowledge on Vesta, I do have my predictions for the next disruptive consumer robot.
Technology advancement is correlated to integration. Twelve years ago the Apple iPhone excelled on account of Steve Job’s vision for apps. With the App Store customers could customize their smartphone experience with applications. I expect that any successful assistant will include features of customization with smart homes and tablets.
People are most comfortable with personalities that match their own. This applies to both friendships and spouses. I predict that a successful Vesta robot will feature some capability for identifying, acknowledging, and matching the mood of its consumer. Jibo included limited functionality in personality.
The development of any new disruptive technology is often beyond the scope of even a tech titan. Steve Job’s acknowledged this when he opened the iPhone to app development by independent companies. Amazon provides developers the limited ability to code new skills for Alexa. It is likely that this skill development would need to be expanded for Vesta’s enhanced vision and mobility features.
The previously mentioned Jibo, Kuri, and Aibo robots were expensive. With prices pushing a thousand dollars, they are beyond the reach of the average consumer. In the past Bezos has shown a willingness to discount products if it equates to greater market share. However Amazon could also monetize the technology with advertising. Promotions are already the business model of Google and Facebook. It is conceivable that an upcoming robot could integrate emotional AI to better analyze consumer behavior and manage advertising. My preceding story explores this fledgling technology.
What features would lure you into purchasing a robotic assistant?