Using AI to Empathize with Robots

MSW sent me, Inspector Katie, to investigate Parisian event, Futur.e.s, a couple weeks ago to find out what’s happening in the world of tech start-ups. I witnessed some neat ideas (find more pics from the event here!) but the best part was observing the gadgets on display-particularly a machine by the name of Spoony.



Spoony makes a great name for pet, but what about for a robot? What about for an assistant? What about all three?? Believe it or not, that tech exists. Scientists are combining humans and automation. This start-up, Spoon Artificial Creatures, is using technology from the forefront of the artificial intelligence world to develop tech that can mimic human social characteristics, ultimately making the interaction and relationship with technology easy, enjoyable, and most importantly, natural.  


This robot, with it’s large, listening blue eyes set in a sweet raccoon-like face, was on display at Futur.e.s 2018. When I walked over to the display, he was speaking french to a member of the Spoon Artificial Creatures team. Not only was the robot responding, but it was miming the demonstrators movements. When she turned and saw my interest, she placed me in front of Spoony, told him to speak English, and walked away leaving me to interact with the machine.




I stepped to the left, it turned towards me. I stepped twice to the right, the blue eyes followed me. I belt over sideways until my head was at my knees and Spoony smoothly kept up with my every move. The ease of its movement was amazing--simply this facet emulated the relationship people have with other beings. The physical materials were engineered well, but the bot remained stationary; perhaps it would benefit from movement as this article describes. Anywho, no time was lost in learning how to use such an invention. The technology is complex beyond my competencies, yet I could use it with I tested it some more.


“What should I have for lunch?” I asked the robot, and the words I spoke appeared in text beneath his smile perfectly accurately. Despite comprehending my language, I confused the poor robot. He didn’t know how to answer me--I was left without a food recommendation. However, the team member helped me teach Spoony how to respond to such a question, in which I taught him to say, “tacos.” Now, if anyone looks for Spoony’s advice as to where to eat, he will always have the best answer possible.


His responses are limited because of the database that he was programmed with, which is completely customizable. Spoony was much more chatty in French, not quite as emotional as some, but watching him interact with others was natural. Maybe he will make it to this stage someday. For now, it's not necessary. Anyone who walked up to the machine did not have to be taught how to use him, because this unique type of technology carefully combined artificial intelligence with empathy. For myself, Spoony was simple to use without any instruction. With a richer database, this robot could be a practical addition to any household, despite age, tech knowledge, and social aptitude, but how does it compare to AI that’s already on the market for the general public?


Siri and Alexa. These are both characters that we’ve heard of, if not have already asked ridiculous questions to. Both are bodiless, faceless, personalities that assist you by answering questions you may have throughout the day. Both are essentially activated by pressing a single button; but, you must speak to an inhuman screen or bot. Others, like this one, puts a lifelike human being on the screen for you, but that's just it-it's still on a screen. This is what makes Spoony more advanced and consumer friendly. For (most of) us, it’s more natural, and thus easier, to talk to a being rather than a machine. So are robots mimicking living beings the future? Will Spoony become a new member of our families? How will children respond to bot relationships? Will Siri and Alexa need faces to keep up with future technologies? Will such interactive machine need to resemble humans for maximum satisfaction? I, for one, would love a blue eyed raccoon helping me find taco recipes rather than my smartphone.  


today of the day tacos GIF