In this post we give our vision about what happened to the first generation of social robots and why the second is already here, and it will be something very exciting that you cannot miss. Will they be like the ones in the WestWorld series? Why do we choose R2-D2?
For those of you who don’t know, Westworld is a dystopian sci-fi television series produced by HBO. It is based on a film of the same title written and directed by Michael Crichton, best known for his book Jurassic Park and the film of the same name directed by Steven Spielberg.
Initially, Westworld is based on a western-themed theme park populated by andorid ‘hosts’ and lots of tech. The ‘guests’ come to this park to have all kinds of experiences where the hosts cannot harm them due to their programming.
The most important part of these hosts to give realism to the experience, in addition to their appearance, is the narrative of each of them whose key objective is to create the illusion of being real for the guests. And its success lies in achieving it to the point that guests never know if they are interacting with another guest or with a host. Or at least they have a reasonable doubt.
The importance of the narrative is fundamental. Think for a moment about the number of pages of prose written daily in the world, film scripts, series, theater, TV programs, video games … not to mention the stories that circulate on the Internet.
Humanity’s appetite for stories is insatiable. We spend as much time telling and consuming stories as we do sleeping. Why? Because stories supply us for life. They are our great source of inspiration. In the words of the playwright Jean Anoulih: Fiction shapes life.
A well-told story offers us what we rarely get in life: a meaningful emotional experience. In life, with memorable exceptions, experiences acquire meaning when we think on them over time. That is, it separates meaning from emotion in time. In a good story, both are produced at the same moment through the phenomenon known as aesthetic emotion.
This you will have noticed especially when you see a good movie or series, or when you read a good book, or when you hear a good story. The feelings are very different when the narrative is good than when it is not.
We consume so many stories of all kinds and in so many formats that the process of creating them with the quality that produces that effect is increasingly difficult. And somehow, their creators in the audiovisual media enrich them with technology to fill in that lack in the ‘story’. It is not something new. In movies it already happened when the sound arrived and later the color. The quality of the stories was lowered by the novelty of these technologies.
I have said before that narrative is fundamental in our lives. And, also, in social robots. Hence, in this post I have started talking about the Westworld robots, which although it belongs to the field of fiction, there is a realistic message regarding the narrative inherent to these robots.
Let’s do a little review of the history of social robots that you undoubtedly know. There have been famous social robot projects that raised high expectations, yet failed primarily for financial reasons. But also because they did not live up to expectations they generated.
I mean robots like Jibo and Vector to mention the best-selling ones. These robots were welcomed by their users with great enthusiasm. Robots attract us, we can’t help it ;-). Like the sound movies, they offered a series of novel technologies for users to interact with them, mainly voice interaction. Technologies that currently are also available in smart phones and smart speakers at a lower cost. Hence, the robots were losing in the comparison with these devices. Users do not want a robot to do what they can already do with their mobiles. They expect something different from a social robot. What went wrong then?
Another ingredient for thinking about. A few days ago we did a survey on our social networks asking which robots they preferred to take home as a companion robot: Jibo vs Cozmo, Wall-e vs Big Hero 6 and R2-D2 vs C-3PO. The winners were Cozmo, Wall-e and R2-D2. Curiously, they are the ones with the worst dialogue capacities. Jibo, Big6 and C-3PO have the ability to speak. Cozmo, Wall-e and R2-D2 communicate over a more rudimentary sound system. Curious, right?
What is behind this choice? What is the common factor? Do we like it because they have a more defined utility? Do they seem more practical to us? Do we like them precisely because they don’t talk? Do they have a more robotics appearance? Do we like them because they have wheels? Is it because of its colors? What do you think?
Robots like Jibo and Vector failed because they didn’t live up expectations. They are magnificent robots on a technological level. They even share many technologies with other devices: cameras, screens, voice interaction, … Others not like the motors that allow them to move or interact with the physical environment. What are those expectations?
The answer can be found by analyzing the results of the survey. Users generally don’t want high-tech social robots per se. The answer is not utility, not practicality, not wheels, not colors. In fact, ‘losing robots’ are technologically more advanced than ‘winning robots’. Therefore, we do not want a social robot only for its technology. This is not what we expect of them.
We are attracted to what they represent and what it transmits to us: their personality, their life, their reality. In other words, the narrative that drives them.
As with the Westworld robots, we want experiences where we have the illusion of having a credible living companion at home. That is what we partially find in robots like Cozmo, Wall-e and R2-D2. A credible character as a partner who transmits aesthetic emotions to us and makes us enjoy the moments we spend with them. That is something that, with similar technologies, we do not request the other devices nor do we need to. But it is something that we request to these robots because it is the true reason for their existence.
And from there users get many other collateral benefits that we will talk about in another post on different levels related to the development of skills and competencies, for example.
Since we started our journey and there are 6 versions of Aisoy robots and Airos emotional operating system, we were always clear that the important thing was to create an affective relationship with the user using natural interaction mechanisms.
When we launched the first versions, the ‘wow’ was produced by the technology that housed our little robot. It was the first time that voice had been used as a human-machine interface in a consumer robot. It was the first time that a robot ‘felt’ (simulated) emotions equivalent to ours. It was the first time a robot could recognize you by seeing you. For those and other things, it was the first time and there were no equivalent devices accessible to most people.
Many things have changed since then in our society. Others no: we continue to need stories to motivate us in our lives.
As with sound and color movies where technological innovation gave way to the quality of stories, the same is happening in what we consider to be the beginning of the second generation of social robots.
We believe in social robotics, the time has come to take that step to continue producing surprise and emotion in users. It is no longer about including only a higher level of technology, but about putting it at the service of a narrative that excites us daily in our home.
We want there to be a narrative within the robot to guide it to provide us with another form of entertainment different from the other devices. A form of entertainment inherent to a social robot and its own nature. A robot according to our expectations.
With Airos 7 we want to take that step by giving greater relevance to the autonomous behavior of our robots, enriching their dialogues, building a credible character that we want to have at home. An autonomous, intelligent, evolving friend, ‘alive’ in a metaphorical sense, interactive, entertaining and adaptable to each user. One more member of the family. But not just anyway. One more member that entertains us and usually makes us get a smile. I would even say that it also surprises us.
The good news is that we are already building it 😉 We hope to have the first working versions this fall.
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If you don’t have a robot and you want to be part of it instead of an observer, here is the robot you need.
Airos 7 is the biggest evolutionary leap we have taken since the creation of our emotional operating system. It is an unprecedented evolution. If you are interested in social robots, you cannot miss it. We are building something really amazing.