“It’ll murder me in my sleep,” is Frank’s (Frank Langella) first response to receiving a robot from his son in this light-hearted movie directed by Jake Schreier.
Set in the near future this film shows us a world where older people with memory problems can have a 24/7 companion, allowing their family who live far away to know there is some support on hand.
The film explores the parameters of this relationship and the robot tells Frank early on that he meeds a project. With initial attempts to bond being around planting a vegetable patch.
What actually gets them to bond is planning a burglary. Frank explains to the robot teaching it to pick locks is the hobby he needs.
The comparison of robot to human care is telling. Frank’s son and daughter live far away and when Madison (Liv Tyler) does visit, she doesn’t always want to do what Frank wants, while the robot has no other needs or agenda. Even the most giving human is not 100 pet cent altruistic.
There are some interesting insights into legal aspects of robots. And I don’t just mean it doesn’t come preprogrammed to not collude in criminal activity with the human it supports. But Frank cannot switch it off as its owner is his son Hunter (James Marsden) who has said he does not have user rights to do this. The machines memory can also be accessed by law enforcement, although I would assume a warrant was required, but this is not made clear – and the police seemed able to search Frank’s house on circumstancial evidence, with the victim of the crime present, with no mention of a judge considering the issue.
The movie touches on the politics of robots, notably when the machine asks if Madison is against robot labour.
One thing I thought robots who are used in health / social care settings should be programmed to request is a name. We wouldn’t give someone a pet and expect them not to name the animal. Susan Sarandon, the librarian in the film, has a work place robot she has named Mr Darcey. Part of the bonding with the support robot would be selecting a name.
Finding a project and keeping a routine are both vital for older people, particulary those with memory issues, any occupational therapist can tell you. But having someone on hand to help you keep to the project and routine will be priceless.
The film is not perfect, but it does raise a number of issues we will face in the near future in an accessible way.

* I mentioned this film when I first heard about it, but have only recently got round to watching, so my post is quite tardy.

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Meccano, the French toy manufacturer, has announced an open source, build your own robot project. Details here. As far as I can tell from the website, it isn’t yet available to buy.

I havent had a play with a real one, but I am excited. A robot you can build and adapt, using open source software (which i guess reflects the nature of Meccano, which is a bunch of pieces which can be assembled and re-assembled in any way you can imagine – similar to Lego for the unfamiliar), is a big deal in my world.

There are two versions of the robot, I link above to the larger one of the two. The massive social change around a robot in every home is coming and while the Honda Asimo is the early runner, there are so many players in this arena it is certainly unclear who will end up being the Microsoft, Google, Amazon or Apple of this brave new world.

#meccanoid

 

 

Asimo is 11 today

October 31, 2011

Asimo is 11 years old today. Hurrah!

There is a cool new video on the Honda website about the project.

They seem happy with the movement and are now working on the AI. So perhaps soon, that commercially availble Asimo will be winging its way to my house.

Something I have been observing for a while, and continue to find interesting, is the really long-term marketing program for the Asimo. It is pretty clear in this video Honda realises the bad press robots have had since forever from sci fi has given them a real marketing problem for the Asimo.

They have been dragging the prototypes all over the planet to show off the friendly robot – and as I have mentioned before, they appear as if already they are everyday objects already in Honda’s main advertising.

While the cause of making sure everyone is happy with robots in their house (think of Will Smith in I, Robot, very loosely based on Asimov‘s work) is a noble one, which I support – to ensure it is not associated with nightmare machines such as the Terminator – they could have chosen a better birth date for the Asimo than Hallo’ween

Asimo is 10 today

October 31, 2010

Today is the 10th birthday of the Asimo from Honda.

I wonder if anyone considered the coincidence of the date and Halloween and the possible negative marketing / branding which could accompany it? Particularly if they ever did malfunction. (Which I personally doubt they ever will, but since everyone who reads my blog who I speak with irl seems to think I’m on the wrong track about robots in every house, I thought I’d mention it.)

My only issue today is that the Asimo is now in its 10th year and still not available on the open market.

Bad Robot

September 27, 2010

I was speaking to a lady the other day (an acquaintance, I guess, if people still have such things in our world of six degrees of separation) who is losing her job because the organisation she worked for is closing down.

Since it became clear she would be out of work by the end of the year she started applying for jobs in similar organisations. Times are hard in that industry (and many others) and no one is hiring.

So she turned to one of the big supermarkets, the logic being working for one of them until the current recession is over is better than the dole. I couldn’t agree more.

This has not come to pass – from the discussion I had with her, I came away with the distinct impression the supermarket was not hiring till staff because they were expecting to increase the number of self-service tills.

As a child and teenager I was an avid reader of science fiction books (and of sci-fi comics and I’d watch movies and TV shows too) and one of those ever-present themes was about machines taking away jobs from people. This would lead to anti robot uprisings amongst civilian populations and would generally create a big mess.

Robots have been present on production lines for many years (I’m fairly certain I read in an Asimov story once about robots building robots that were better than humans could ever build), but this is the first time I have actually heard someone I know say they haven’t got employment because of the robots.

This is a worrying turn of events. Computers and robots are supposed to be machines – tools – to assist us. Not workplace rivals.

When you see the cute Asimo on the the Honda ads (great ads btw, made by Wieden + Kennedy) remember one day he may be stealing your job out from under you.

I foresee the Daily Mail stopping the immigration stories and running with the robot stories instead…

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