The second in a series curated by Wired
editor-at-large Ben Hammersley
CEO and principal Matt Webb
take his turn behind the storied wooden desk at the Royal Institution
in London's Albemarle Street, delivering a lecture on domestic AI.
Opening with stills of futuristic space stations and grabs from the ever-entertaining Paleofuture
blog, which tracks the weird and wonderful predictions of the future, Webb quickly brought the audience down to earth, telling us that 'the bleeding edge of technology is in the home. We've flipped from the industrial to the domestic.'
Attributing this shift to computer designer PC inventor Doug Engelbart
, Webb argued that AI was here already. Not in the form, for example, of Hal from Kubrick's 2001
, but instead Roomba
the intelligent vacuum cleaner - with tech augmenting human experience, not replacing.
Urging all to keep an eye on the toy section of the Argos catalogue - 'where I go to get my fix of science fiction' - Webb looked at the simple learning and communications technology in the Furby toy
, released as far back 1998 (and selling 40 million units). He argued that nano-tech developments are as important to product design, now, as the mini motor was in 1915.
Furby's limited AI, said Webb, took products into the realm of emotional attachment, something which dumb products cannot enjoy. The technology can be either based upon big maths (see the Sudoku Grab app
) or upon a 'mechanical turk' format - human workers supporting products (in the mode of the stuffed dog at Slough railway station which surprised Webb with a tweet
when he posted about it on his Twitter account).
Either way, the technology was 'cheap as chips' and capable of impressive results and in the case of the $1.99 Sudoku Grab, complex processes.
With designers also adding a layer of human engagement - for example the keep-fit coaching robot Autom
, which boasts a touchscreen and asks if the trainee is going to come back the bext day - A.I. has a powerful domestic pull.
'People are ready to relate to robots,' concludes Webb.
However, no sci-fi lecture would be complete without a warning: Webb reminds us that via 'cutification' we grow over-attached to products and, potentially, blase about the feelings of real, living things with which we do need to interact. So be careful out there, kids.Click here
to listen to the lecture in full, and visit the BERG blog
for co-principal Matt Jones' take on the preceding lecture in the series by Alex Deschamps-Sonsino
. The concluding lecture
features Ben Hammersley
on AI and geo-politics, on Thursday 24 February. www.rigb.orgberglondon.com