I, Robot | Breakthrough Funding

Thursday, August 9, 2018

I, Robot

Will we always value character over AI functionality?

There’s a concept that has been long recognised in the scientific world, particularly in relation to AI and robotics, called ‘uncanny valley’. The theory refers to the idea that human beings find objects cute if they resemble humans or animals – to a certain point. But once the resemblance becomes just that little bit too close, as in ‘uncanny’, it tends to creep people out.

However, even if highly rendered humanoids give us the collywobbles, we’re a fickle bunch when it comes to our artificial intelligence. If you had the choice between interacting with a room-sized server that could answer any question you put to it, or playing with a robot puppy that could only count to 10 and sing ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, which would you pick?

Cute and familiar tends to hit the spot, which seems to be the thinking behind Anki’s latest innovation. The company has already created Cozmo, the interactive little robot that was a huge Christmas hit a couple of years ago. Having shifted 1.5 million units, they’ve now set their sights on the intelligent speaker market.

At first glance, Vector seems pretty underwhelming – it’s able to answer questions by displaying the answers on its screen and even take a photo of the people around it when asked. But it doesn’t look like being a competitor to the more remote yet efficient Alexa, for example.

Anki claims it’s not intended to be; that people will want to buy the 7cm robot purely for its cute personality. And they’re probably right. After all, who doesn’t want a sweet little droid rolling around their desk and giving weather reports with its eyes?

Are you working on tech that puts the fun back into functional, or adds a bit of glamour to a grunt-work device? Get in touch with the Breakthrough Funding team and let’s see if we fall in love with your idea.

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