My New Friend is a Robot

My New Friend is a Robot

When I’ve read about Little Sophia by Hanson Robotics, it took me a few seconds to rush to Kickstarter, read about the project and in a few minutes I’ve decided to become a backer and support this project.

Now it might come as a surprise to you, but the only late experience that I had with was so-called “a robot” is with Untamed Arena fingerlings.

Now, a robot, by definition, quoting Wikipedia:

“A robot is a machine—especially one programmable by a computer— capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically.[2] Robots can be guided by an external control device or the control may be embedded within. Robots may be constructed to take on human form but most robots are machines designed to perform a task with no regard to how they look.”

Now, those fingerlings didn’t really do complex series of actions. I mean, I could pet them, turn them upside down or knock on their head and they react, so by definition. This is as close as I got to interact with a physical interactive character-like machine last year.

Anyways, even those simple interactions were really exciting. I am an adult, and I got excited by it like this is the first time I get to play with a toy in my life – I felt like a child again, and maybe that child never actually left. I think I got more excited using it than my niece did, kind of funny when you think about it.

I also have a fantasy, a dream that I think started after I finished watching the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001 by Steven Spielberg). Since then I have that fantasy where I have my own robot which I can speak to, someone that I can ask questions, tell him/her my deepest secrets and all that without worrying about a harsh response. Since then I’ve matured and got older, but that fantasy still remained.

Having such interaction doesn’t need to be with a physical robot, it can also be with a virtual entity in Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality. However, there is something about doing it with a physical entity, someone that we can feel and touch that makes the experience more authentic and emotional. There are already technologies that give us the option to feel the virtual, so it won’t take long until we can have a similar tactile experience with a virtual robot.

Little Sophia was designed as an educational tool for children, but I’m sure that many of the people who saw this robot couldn’t ignore the amazing fact that (hopefully) by December 2019, they are going to be able to interact with a human-like robot in their home, one that is smart, capable of learning and  evolving.

this brings me back to an experience I had when I used the app Tendar on my Android phone. It’s an app featuring a  trainable cute fish-like virtual AI companion, which is smarter and more entertaining than any other simulation app that I’ve previously used in augmented reality before. It told me jokes, he welcomed me when I launched the app, he learned about my environment, recognized objects and you could feel it’s enthusiasm as he explored the world with me. I felt like a father to him, like an alien that came to visit and I show him my world for the very first time – it was a fascinating experience.

The cool thing about Little Sophy is that she can make facial expressions, something that can really help people to get more emotionally affected by her reactions. It happened to us when we see someone smiling and we smile as well, or someone laughing that makes us laugh back, it’s in our nature, our genes.

Little Sophia walking did seem a bit awkward from the video, and her talking needs improvement to sound more natural, but this is definitely a huge step towards having an option to have a robot that acts and feel very much human.

Little Sophia was designed to interact with kids while teaching Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), coding an AI.  It also as an AR function that allows users to take a perfect selfie while putting accessories on her (e.g. a hat). It can be programmed with blocky (Blockly is a client-side JavaScript library for creating visual block programming languages and editors.) and Python, she can walk, features facial tracking and recognition, she can tell stories, jokes, play games and even sing. You can chat and interact with her as you do with a real person, but of course don’t expect her to be able to answer everything or give you a perfectly natural conversation as you have with a real person, this will happen, eventually.

In the Kickstarter page, Hanson Robotics talks about why STEM is so important for girls and about the growth of STEM jobs in the future is expected to skyrocket, and the lack of women in these fields meaning fewer female role models. After I read it, I felt even more obliged to support the project. I felt like I am contributing to something much bigger than me, and that I can have an effect on the next generation to come. I wanted to support that message with all my heart, and by backing up this project, I felt that I have my own contribution to this field.

Aside from what I’ve said, I am also very interested in learning about other complementary technologies in the field of machine learning and computer vision because these are technologies that are going to enhance the AR experience times fold and allow us to deliver more contextual and personalized experiences, which are a must in order to deliver more personal, relevant, progressive and beneficial immersive AR experience in real-time. I know that the technologies used with Little Sophia will also help to enhance future AR/MR experiences.

I saw all those things when I first read about Little Sophia today, and it all came to me at once and this is a few of the main reasons why I have decided to support this project and become a backer.

If you emphasize with what I’ve written above, you can also support the project yourself on this page on Kickstarter.

Hopefully, by December 2019, my new friend will arrive. I’ll make sure you’ll meet her.

Thanks for reading.