Humanoid sex robots
Although I feel a bit uneasy in publishing news in this area I do recognise the market relevance and the social implications and I guess these are the reasons why the researchers at the Imperial College have looked at this area and foresee disruptions coming up by 2030.
There have been “sex-dolls” for quite some time, very basic technology I would say getting better as material science progressed to provide more life like feeling. What we are seeing today is that a few companies, like Realbotix and TrueCompanion, are creating technology advanced products leveraging on leading edge mechatronics and artificial intelligence. Why today? Because these advanced technologies have become cheaper and affordable. If you look at a different application area, a robotic vacuum cleaner like Roomba embeds technology that just twenty years ago would have been priced in the hundred thousands $ whilst today the whole package is on shelves for under a thousand $.
Interestingly, these “offers” are highly customisable by the client at the time of purchase, with the possibility of choosing the face, the body and all the various details I do not need to go into any specifics (just click on the links of those companies I referenced -and confirm you are old enough…-), and they are also customisable in terms of “character”. Differently from the real thing, a client has the possibility of replacing parts that based on experience are not satisfactory and these replacements include changing the character of this soft/hard companion.
As you would expect, these companies are leveraging on today’s technology and paradigm, so that you would download new character traits on your smartphone and then upload them to the companion “brain” to get a completely different experience.
These advanced companions talk to you, they way you fancy they talk to you, using chatbox technology and you can expect them to become more and more engaging as chatbox technology gets better.
Will there really be a disruption in the 2030 horizon in these area? Looking at technology evolution one might say that by that time we are going to have all technological components needed for a human like companion that can adapt to the various fancies of people in this very intimate area. I am not sure that the bettering of technology (which is a sure bet) will necessarily change the culture of the society. I take for granted that a few (may be even a “large” few) people may take advantage of these hight tech companions, as today sex dolls are being used, but I don’t think that this will lead to a significantly broader adoption of artificial substitute to the real thing. The sex market might, however, be disrupted, like the advent of internet has disrupted the sales of porn and basically led to the demise of sex shops.
Emotionally aware machines
Affective computing came on the stage quite few years ago, I heard about it in my frequentation to the MIT Media Lab in the last century (actually it was just 1998, but it seems so long time ago!) where the group of Rosalind Picard started to explore the possibility of having people engaged at a emotional level with computers. That group is still very active today and significant progress have been made both on technology side and on the understanding of how an affective relation can be established and maintained.
Image recognition has evolved to the point that today we have consumer market point-and-shoot cameras able to recognise people smiling and taking the shot at the right moment. This image recognition software can infer emotions and applications can fine tune the way they interact based on the emotions detected.
Software to detect emotions analysing the voice is also becoming available, companies like MIMOSYS are able to detect diseases and mental disorders, including stress and depression, through voice analyses. Today, MIMOSYS works only for Japanese, and have been tested in that environment, but they are planning to extend it to other languages (and cultures).
Joy AI is a US company focussing on background monitoring for detecting first signs of depression. At EIT Digital we invested on initiatives to detect stress in professional truck drivers and on detecting first signs of cognitive degradation.
Other companies, like Persado, offer software that intercept people emotions and tailor marketing messages to that. This is clearly important, since marketing is about generating emotions and steering them in a very specific direction.
By 2030 it is reasonable to expect that emotion detection and adaptation of interaction to better fit the emotional status will become an integral part of Human Machine Interaction. Whether the machines will feel our emotion or just mechanically execute on parameters that for them are on the same level as temperature and humidity is a totally different question.
It is clear anyhow that when machine will be able to change their behaviour taking into account our emotions, as we do when we interact with each other, we will change our perception of machines. It will also be a significant step in the direction of establishing a symbiotic relation with machines.