Amazon might be on to something. The online retailer’s boss, Jeff Bezos, fancies himself as a latter day Steve Jobs, though his success with technology gadgets remains far behind Apple’s iconic leader.
Still, Amazon has a product on the shelves– literally– that seems to me to be an inkling of what we can expect of interaction with future technology gadgets. Echo and Alexa, the Amazon counterpart to Siri-everywhere on Apple products. I see the value of having Siri on every device but what I want is something more human.
iRobot, Because iWant
Word on the streets says Amazon has launched a multi-million dollar competition among teams of students to create an artificial intelligence that is charming enough that we can chat to it about different subjects. Siri doesn’t do that. Neither does Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Whatever, nor Amazon’s Alexa.
That’s what I want. A device that can keep up with me during conversation about current events, politics, basic news, human interaction and relationships, and be somewhat proactive in the process.
Siri: Bambi, that’s the third time this week you’ve raised your voice beyond normal levels to your husband. Is everything OK?
Bambi: Yes, I’m fine. Too much work this week, he’s not been paying attention to me, and it’s that time again.
Siri: I understand. Do you want to talk about it?
That kind of thing, but in a device that resembles a humanized pet, somewhat like a mashup of Sony’s QRIO and Aibo (bipedal humanoid and pet dog, respectively). The keys to success here are simple yet extremely difficult for the technology.
I want a device that can form an emotional bond, act as an always on, always nearby friend, one who takes care of personal schedules, tasks, and monitors projects, yet is available to talk. About anything.
Siri: Excuse me, Bambi. But those shoes you wanted are now on sale at Nordstrom. Shall I order them for you?
Bambi: Yes, Siri. Place the order. Oh, and can you tell me why there’s no more cake left in the refrigerator?
Siri: Yes, I will place the order. My sensors indicate your husband was in the kitchen area early this morning. Perhaps he had a snack. Would you like for me to talk to him about it?
There is little to indicate that similar conversations could not take place with an iPhone, iPad, even Watch, or now the Mac, thanks to macOS Sierra, but having a humanoid-like device that can scurry from room to room (and hang out online with iPhone, iPad, et al) would be a big plus because that visual helps to create the emotional bond.
Siri’s problem with such an endeavor is common to all artificial intelligence systems to date. Humans are verbal creatures who have an early and deep understanding of context in relationships, machines have to be taught that and humans must first figure out how we operate so AI bots can mimic our conversational styles. If you’ve ever listened to two women talking over lunch then you know the challenges facing the technology.
Siri is the start, but none of her (or, his; Siri can go both ways) competitors fare better in the human interaction department, yet Siri’s built-in sneakiness helps to create the first layer of a bond. We need more. There is also the fear that human interaction might suffer if we become too dependent upon a humanized technology that does not act with the same illogical nature seemingly so embedded into humans.
Bambi: Siri, did you make this week’s grocery shopping list?
Siri: Look, Babs, I’ve been busy, OK? Cut me some slack. I’ll let you know, alright?
Apple may not be the first to the humanoid artificial intelligence robot parade, but I’m thinking that Siri all dressed up as iRobot complete with contextual history and learning, but in a moving device with a face that evokes emotion, curiosity, and helpfulness would be a huge hit.
My favorite as the artificial intelligence bridge toward I, Robot is Jibo, already billed as the first social robot.
Add a little mobility and the future is here. Apple needs to do this.