Toyota is planning to sell a little robot that behaves like a young child and looks like a cross between a mutant ninja turtle and a short-sighted toddler. So cute!
The $400 palm-sized Kirobo Mini is bright enough to learn casual conversations – “are we there yet?” – and is designed to be your little companion, presumably on long drives.
This anthropomorphic contraption will do a lot to improve the public image of artificial intelligence (AI), something that is troubling the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft who see AI as the next source of megabucks.
After many false starts and failed promises, AI has come of age and is sizzling hot right now. The offshoot of the company that devised Apple’s Siri service has just been bought by Samsung. This week Google launched its learning speaker, called Home, which joins Echo, the successful Amazon personal assistant.
These gadgets are designed as personal or home assistants, helping control household equipment and answering everyday questions from the family. More important, they remember your habits and learn to understand your domestic needs.
With the rapid development of driverless cars and a slew of industrial AI applications, the long-promised benefits of AI are about to be delivered. Our lives will become easier and less tedious as repetitive tasks are done by the offspring of Toyota’s Kirobo.
Professions that depend on retentive memories, like medicine and the law, will be severely disrupted with automated, learning systems providing quicker and cheaper alternatives to clever people. And of course, ever-more intelligent industrial robots will eliminate even more factory jobs.
Understandably, this has got a lot of people worried. AI will steal jobs. Computers will control our lives. And may even disobey their masters. All of this has been predicted by dystopian science fiction writers. Now, those who are set to benefit most from the technology – the software makers and service providers – are worried they will be held back by an anxious public and jumpy politicians restricting the growth of AI.
That’s why Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, Apple and others have formed the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society (PAIBPS). Not a very intelligent mouthful, but at least it’s clear what the organisation wants to do. Its tasks will include researching public attitudes and devising strategies to allay fears.
Although PAIBPS has a whiff of Monsanto about it, its founding is good news for AI and our future. If Monsanto had been more open about its technology and business intentions, we could all be benefiting from the good things about genetic modification, instead of battling with Luddite policy makers reflecting a suspicious electorate.
If PAIBPS wants to become a learning organisation it could do no better than chat to the people at Toyota who know how to make AI cute. Go Kirobo.