This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) just ended, and alongside the widespread criticism towards Ivanka Trump’s questionable invitation, the hottest electronic trends for the future were revealed. With Amazon and Google being unsurprisingly the biggest players in the personal assistants game, robo-friends were equally praised during the Las Vegas event.
Despite most people’s natural scepticism towards robots with human-like traits, which is mainly triggered by sci-fi movies and literature, companionship androids seem to be on the rise as the range of assisting services they could tackle is expanding. The computerised ‘friends’ displayed at CES varied in forms and features, but their main goal remained the same: to provide humans with the emotional assistance they might otherwise struggle to obtain.
GROOVE X is a Japanese start-up that recently made headlines with Lovot, a small and fluffy “cuddlebot” whose only purpose is to show love and emotional attachment through its big eyes and open arms. Lovot sits between a snuggly robo-pet and a living stuffed-animal that provides tenderness to its owners by following them around, dancing and speaking like a toddler.
Some might find Lovot and what it offers somewhat creepy, mainly because of our fear of robots eliciting emotions in us and replacing humans altogether. But the truth is that Lovot gained a lot of positive feedback at CES: its lovability seems stronger than any scepticism. Unfortunately for those who were already planning to purchase their new tech pet, Lovot is currently only available in Japan for a cost of $2.8k (or a subscription starting at $83 per month).
Unlike Lovot, which arguably doesn’t provide any ‘necessary’ services (unless we consider emotional care a necessary service, which we probably should), Reachy, the robot by Pollen Robotics, is a very different type of human-like assistant. Reachy is a $17k robotic human torso whose peculiarity is its open-sourced system designed to explore new interactive usages of robots in the real world.
Designed to help within both public and private spaces, such as hospitals, homes and retails, Reachy is currently being mostly used by researchers in universities and for research and development services in tech companies. Screen Shot talked to Matthieu Lapeyre, co-founder and CEO of Pollen Robotics, who told us that companies are implementing Reachy in the marketing and retail area to create a new shopping experience, while medical companies are exploring how humanoid robots can be used as health assistants and nurses in both homes and hospitals.
When asked about people’s fear of AI and human-like robots, which amplifies as more humanoid machines come along, Lapeyre explained that, “with Reachy we never experienced any criticisms or fears. During CES, people told us they had a lot of empathy for Reachy and they are actually helping him when he fails to do something. I think it’s really linked to the way that we have designed the robot as playful and naive. He is not superior to humans, he’s a ‘pet’ doing his best to help you. More generally, we see AI and robotics as only ‘tools’. Tools are mostly used for good and constructive actions so even if we can imagine dark usages of these incoming technologies, we really think the balance will stay largely positive.”
Last and probably least in the top-three list of CES’ humanlike products, Samsung’s advanced research division Star Labs presented Neon, an AI chatbot made to have conversations on various topics with humans. While the conversations proved to be rather basic, Samsung is positive that Neon’s holograms will soon be able to become our friends, actors and TV anchors, although we’ll have to wait a few years before that happens.
With more than 170,000 visitors, multiple Las Vegas venues and its yearly controversy, CES still managed to display a range of life-changing devices (and some less life-changing ones) that will define the tech market in 2020. Connected cars and foldable screens are without a doubt catchy products, but nothing catches our attention more than cuddly robots and artificially intelligent androids that are able to improve our living standards. As robots increasingly enter our personal and public life, maybe it’s right that these tech companies’ first concern is to make sure their innovations have the same empathy we look for in humans.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), an international trade show for consumer tech and innovation held in Las Vegas once a year, has always served as a proving ground for many innovators and new products. However, last year, it also made headlines for taking back the CES Innovation Award in Robotics from the female sex toys company Lora DiCarlo. CES later reinstated the award after Lora DiCarlo’s founder Lora Haddock DiCarlo vocalised the gender-based discrimination she experienced—with the story going viral across the media. Shortly after, DiCarlo helped re-write the rules to create a safer and more inclusive environment at CES.
This year’s CES started on Monday, 6 January and will finish on Friday. On Tuesday, a specific keynote called ‘The path to the future of work” made waves even before its beginning. Why? Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, had, for some reason, invited Ivanka Trump to join him on stage for a “fireside” chat.
When it was announced that President Trump’s daughter will speak at CES 2020, many wondered why she was invited in the first place. Among them was Lora DiCarlo, who posted an open letter to the tech community questioning why Ivanka Trump was chosen as a speaker and asking for input on who they would like to see take on the prestigious keynote talk next year.
So why exactly did Ivanka Trump speak at CES 2020, and what did she have to share? Is it possible that Ivanka Trump’s appearance at CES was requested by the White House? Shapiro refused to speak about it in an interview with the BBC, but it should be remembered that Ms Trump didn’t come only as the President’s daughter—she came as the advisor to the President of the US, and as co-chair of two governmental advisory boards, including the National Council for the American Worker.
So what did Ms Trump talk about? Despite controversy surrounding her invitation, she managed to get more than a few words in, unlike what happened at the G20 meeting with President Macron, the then UK PM Theresa May and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau this summer, which resulted in a trending #unwantedIvanka.
Ms Trump’s main point was that Americans’ CV data should be stored and updated on their phones as a way to make applying for jobs easier. “Why can’t you have your high school degree verified and on your phone, so an employer doesn’t need to call your high school?” she asked Shapiro. The highly anticipated talk was, to say the least, quite boring—some attendees even said it lacked “drama.”
Screen Shot spoke to Lora Haddock DiCarlo about Ms Trump’s invitation to CES, how it didn’t correlate with last year’s reaction to her product Osé and DiCarlo’s open letter. “I published a letter asking this very question. Why [was Ivanka Trump invited]? I genuinely am curious,” said DiCarlo. When asked about the tech industry’s reaction to her invitation, DiCarlo responded that, “We are still gathering feedback and hope to have a better idea of what the community thinks by the end of the week.”
This year, DiCarlo returned to CES 2020 with a two-part product similar to 2019’s Osé. Baci and Onda, the latest innovations from the brand, were unveiled on the first day of the event and each received the highly-coveted CES Honoree Innovation Award. This marked a major shift from the company’s ban from CES 2019 and proved that DiCarlo’s work from last year resulted in real change. “We became change agents, initiating a critical public conversation about gender equity and creating a safer and more inclusive environment for all CES attendees,” stated DiCarlo.
And yet, CES still seems to stay on the fence when it comes to change. On the one hand, the previously banned sex toys company Lora DiCarlo became one of the biggest winners of this year’s event. But on the other hand, Ivanka Trump was invited for an hour-long keynote, while there are numerous other women with more expertise in the field who are fighting for real change.
When asked about which women she would have picked instead of Ms Trump, DiCarlo said she would have loved to see advertising consultant and founder of the IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn companies, Cindy Gallop. Well, who knows, maybe next year? Or maybe for CES 2021 we’ll witness Gary Shapiro having a little chat with Donald Trump himself.