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Jibo: Will You Adopt Your First Family Robot?

Promotional Image via Jibo

Eugene Gan - published on 03/30/15

Jibo knows a lot about what you do, where you go, who you see, what you like, who you talk to, and when you meet. The choice you have to make, whether to “adopt” Jibo in your life, straddles comfort and entertainment on the one hand, and personal security and privacy on the other. With Jibo storing and processing all your personal data, schedules, and preferences, will marketers start invading your space, peer into your home, or hack into your accounts? Plus, for Jibo to respond to you, it means that he must be constantly watching you, constantly listening to you. Does this make Jibo fun or freaky? Perhaps both. Jibo is still more akin to a microwave than it is to a portable device: it’s a stationery object molded in household appliance-white. It doesn’t follow you around like Rosie in
The Jetsons for the simple reason that it doesn’t have legs…yet. If Jibo takes off in a big way, it’s not too hard to imagine that it could sprout appendages and legs to fetch stuff for you. But like some horror movie, I wouldn’t want it moving from my night stand to sit at the foot of my bed while I’m asleep, or appear suddenly in the mirror when I close the bathroom cabinet. Likewise, I and many others who have just come from watching the machine-insects of
The Maze Runner wouldn’t appreciate any spidery designs, thank you. At the same time, propeller-less hovering, flying versions like Wall*e’s E.V.E. is a nice thought but still the stuff of science fiction. Practically, it would more likely connect with your smart phone so that wherever you are, it’ll be able to keep yammering with you if you let it. Its immovability makes it less useful than what the designers intend. Promotional trailers can cut from scene to scene showing Jibo in various household settings, but in reality, getting just one Jibo means that you would have to physically move Jibo from room to room. At $499 and available in late 2015, I’m sure Breazeal hopes that multiple Jibos would be sitting on your night stand, dining room table, kitchen counter, and side tables. I wonder how one Jibo would interact with another, carrying on a conversation that would never end and going back and forth taking selfies of one another?

I can envision accessory and program packs that you can purchase to provide Jibo with new abilities and personalities suited to your tastes. C3PO or HAL9000 voicepacks, anyone? And because it is being touted as an open SDK, open platform, I can also envision hackers and enthusiasts modding Jibo to do things never intended by the designers. Projecting princess Leia on the coffee table saying “[substitute user name], you’re my only hope” is high on my list. Then again, that’s not a need, and it begs the question: after that is done, then what? All said, it’s still a toy, and the features fall more in the entertainment category than they do in the “essential and needed” category. But moving forward, there’s an even greater concern that we ought to pay attention to. Together with movies like
Chappie and
Ex Machina that promote the human qualities of robots, the real danger, especially since it requires time and effort to reflect on it, is that we get confused in our thinking and decision-making and denigrate the genuine dignity and worth of human beings to mere machine. Sorry, but Jibo or any robot created between now and the end of time, even if it looks and acts like a human, however endearing it may seem, will not have a soul.

Dr Eugene Gan is
faculty associate of the Veritas Center and Professor of Interactive Media, Communications, and Fine Art at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the United States. His book,
Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media
is grounded in Scripture and magisterial documents, and is a handbook and practical guide for understanding and engaging media in meaningful and healthy ways in daily life.

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