Living with Azuma Hikari

Azumi Hikari Is Gatebox’s Initial Release of a Personal Miniature Robot

It was my friend Bill Korn who told me about Gatebox. In today’s Japan, there are fewer marriages, fewer births, and a larger population of the aged as time goes on. You can read about it in an Economist article entitled “I Don’t: Most Japanese Want to Be Married but Are Fining It Hard.” To help young Japanese salarymen hold themselves together while waiting for what may or may not occur, Gatebox has released a personal robot for $3,000 about as big as a coffeemaker.

You can see the introductory character, Azumi Hikari, at work in this two-minute video:

What disturbs me is that Miss Azumi is a manga character with a child’s body, such that it reminds me of pedophilia more than anything else. When its owner walks in the door, she does a little dance of joy like a child. She even calls him on his cell phone and tries to wheedle him into coming home from work early. I don’t know whether I want to be the master of a child slave who is a projected figure several inches high in a glass tube.

Of course, sex is completely out of the question, unless you want to turn yourself into some sort of manga projection. I’m sure Gatebox will have to field a few thousand queries about that.

You can read a review of the product in this PC Magazine review entitled “Gatebox Virtual Home Robot Wants You to Be Her Master.



Robots, TED Talks, and Butchers’ Thumbs

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear!

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear!

Coming home from work today (yes, now I’m working Saturdays), I heard something that made me sit bolt upright while listening to a National Public Radio program dedicated to TED talks. You may recall that TED (short for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is the dernier cri when it comes to spreading dubious notions. This one was a talk by Cynthia Breazeal of MIT entitled “The Rise of Personal Robots.”

Ms. Breazeal dreamed of a day when robots would solve many of our societal and personal problems. What makes me suspicious is what I call the Butcher’s Thumb Paradox. A good electronic scale makes weighing cuts of meat easy and accurate—except for one thing. I am referring to the butcher’s thumb, which, resting on the scale, adds several ounces to your purchase.

In the world of robotics, what would serve as the butcher’s thumb are the corporations that build the robots. The robots will serve you, the purchaser, to some extent; but, even more, they serve the marketing goals of the corporations that build them. That’s why robots have been used extensively to kill manufacturing jobs, because they are cheaper than humans, don’t ever unionize, and don’t require expensive health or workmen’s compensation insurance.

Remember how many technical support problems the telephone was supposed to solve. Now, when you call a major corporation for tech support, you get what’s called an automated attendant, which walks you through a script. Now I don’t know about you, but the option you are looking for doesn’t exist about 50-60% of the time. Why? Because it is never in the corporation’s best interest to explain anything to you which may require follow-up questions and answers. They’ll connect you to sales right away, but God help you if they accidentally billed you for a left-handed sky hook or delivered a device that was, in effect, a non-functioning paper weight. In fact, many vendors will now charge you to answer questions. Questions are quite simply unprofitable. Too bad about your needs!

Before we ever get a personal robot to help us with the housework or carry out the garbage, we will have robot bill collectors, robot parking police, and robot callers. (Wait a minute! We already have those! And aren’t they fun?)

So when TED speakers promise great money and time saving advances for us plain folks, keep looking for the butcher’s thumb. It’s there somewhere….