Jibo: This Little Bot of Mine

jibopicOne can say many things about today’s society and how we live, but no one can say we aren’t entertained. Between smartphones, tablets, and being able to access almost any TV show, movie, or song with a few clicks of a mouse, many things have been made easier for humans, and a lot more interesting. But, we haven’t slowed down; in fact, we’ve officially broken new ground. 

Logging onto the website www.jibo.com will bring you to an advertisement that explains “The World’s First Family Robot,” otherwise known as Jibo. Jibo was designed by Jibo, Inc., a pioneer of Social Robotics, MIT Media Lab. Founder and Chief Science Officer Dr. Cynthia Breazeal describes Jibo as being able to bring family members closer together, and identified the company’s goal as humanizing technology. 

According to Jibo’s website, www.jibo.com, Jibo contains two hi-resolution cameras that can recognize and track faces, take pictures, and provides his own three dimensional Skype-like video calling. Jibo has 360 degree  microphones and can understand and hear commands from anywhere in the room. Additionally, he can talk, and give hands-free reminders and messages. Artificial intelligence algorithms in Jibo’s programming allow him to learn user preferences to fit into each family’s life. Jibo also features natural social and emotive cues so the robot and the user can understand each other in the best way possible.

When first reading about this new step towards interactive, humanistic technology, one of the first things on my mind was the expense. However, many middle class families would be able to purchase Jibo with its surprising cost of $599 for the Home edition of Jibo and his JiboAlive Toolkit. The developer edition that includes JavaScript API access to Jibo’s sensory systems, an eclipse plugin, and a sample source code, is only $100 more. There are also $125 developer upgrades available for your bot. Jibo is about 11 inches tall, 6 inches wide, and weighs about 5 pounds. It has its own wifi and its own cloud-storing system. Jibo’s website states that full public release of the device is scheduled for the summer of 2016. 

Jibo is also designed to help entertain teens by allowing them to create, customize, and connect with friends in new ways. He is designed to be a companion and help families stay connected through video chatting and messages. Jibo also features many story-telling perks, like sound effects, graphics, and physical movements. This feature could bring educating young children to a whole new level. 

However, when describing Jibo’s ability to act as a companion, Jibo.com said, “Physical presence with helpfulness and heart, Jibo will put a smile on your face and make you feel better.” Jibo is described as an “emotional connector,” a “family robot,” and even “a great wingman.” He sleeps and wakes on command. How is it that a machine can possess so many human-like qualities?

According to Dr. Jiacun Wang, chair of the computer science and software engineering department, the main technology used with Jibo is called artificial intelligence, which allows for interaction between the machine and human beings. Jibo runs on voice, facial, and motion recognition technology. Some of the features of Jibo, while certainly doable, won’t be perfect. 

Wang made the point that people with accents or young children who haven’t properly learned how to enunciate certain words might experience some limitations with Jibo’s voice recognition software. “I don’t want to say it will be impossible, because technology advances every year, but it will be very difficult for the device to do all that it is advertised to do,” Wang said. 

What effects might Jibo and this interactive, human-like idea of entertainment have on people today? According to Mary Harris, a specialist professor of communication, “The only thing I think that could really be harmful is that some people might use it too much and a little inappropriately, in the sense that they kind of see it as a babysitter instead of spending more time with their kids. I find that people get so distracted easily with even just a modern cell phone, that sometimes they use technology to replace actual parenting.”

The idea of using Jibo as an assistant and a main source of entertainment instead of human members of the family might be a potential negative factor of this technology. “Not only could robotics alter our means of interaction, mobile robots like Jibo could eventually replace parenting, teaching, and other human interaction,” said Dr. Jack Demarest, a professor of psychology. Similar to Professor Harris’s point, Demarest also noted on how much might change with increased robotic use in society, including education and careers. 

In terms of privacy, according to Jibo’s website, “Jibo complies with FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection guidelines including the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). A company security officer reviews security of all customer data at all phases of use. Jibo employs industry standard best practices regarding the way data is stored and transferred. Passwords are stored using cryptographic one-way hash functions. This is meant to ensure that nobody, even the company security officer, can ever gain access to a user’s password.”

Will Jibo be a helpful new member of the family that can educate and entertain, or will it worsen the constant fixation on technological devices that our society currently suffers from? “It’s an easy fall back, but it is certainly entertaining,” said Harris.

PHOTO TAKEN from jibo.com