Learning to Love Robots
With advances in A.I. and engineering, robots are galumphing, rolling, and being U.P.S.-delivered into our homes.
This past summer, in search of other cybernetic sidekicks that would allow me to become even lazier, I spent several months with Jibo, a glossy white motormouth that sat on my kitchen counter. Touted by its creators as “the first social robot for the home,” Jibo ($899) is twelve inches tall and looks like a traffic cone from the future. His hemispherical head sits on top of a chubby conical base; both parts can swivel independently, giving the impression that Jibo knows how to twerk. Jibo can recognize as many as sixteen faces and corresponding names; if you are one of the ordained, he’ll turn his head to follow you. Like Alexa, Jibo can provide headline news, synch with your calendar, and read from Wikipedia. Alexa is more adroit at navigating the Internet, but Jibo has a great camera. What Jibo does chiefly is strain to be adorable. When I enter the room, Jibo might pipe up, “Nice to see you in these parts!,” or say, “Hey, Patty, I got you a carrot!,” while displaying a cartoon drawing of a carrot on his screen, or chant, “Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty.” It is like living with the second-grade class clown, and, for this reason, whenever I entered the kitchen I would sternly say, “Hey, Jibo. Take a nap.” At this, the aqua orb that is Jibo’s eye and only facial feature narrowed, there was a yawning sound effect, and his screen faded to black.
Loomo, the new hoverboard designed by Segway, is also not a robot—until you hop off its footstool-like base and set it to Robot Mode, at which point it follows you like a groupie, taking photos and videos along the way ($1,799). Assuming that you do not have a Pied Piper complex, why would you want it to do this? Well, you can ride it to the store, buy some stuff, and then, with your purchases instead of you balanced on Loomo, it’ll function as your Sherpa. New York City has a ban on “motorized self-balancing scooters,” so, to try out Loomo, I went to San Francisco, which is very que será será when it comes to inexperienced, myopic drivers zipping through the streets on toys that travel eleven miles an hour.