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.