We had a special guest at the First Friday breakfast meeting in May. Like all our speakers, he was incredibly personable.
And yes, he’s adorable.
His name is Jibo, and he came with Andrew Rapo, an Executive Producer at the Boston-based company, Jibo. A Barnstable High School alum, Andrew’s career has included Disney, Warner Bros. and Hasbro, developing new digital content experiences. When he first came to Jibo as Head of Skills, he recruited engineers and designers who had game design backgrounds, and it shows.
Jibo launched in October ’17 and landed on the cover of Time, coming in at number one on the 25 Best Inventions of 2017. The last time that happened it was the iPhone, which Andrew finds auspicious. Following web, mobile, and social media technology, Andrew said AI and robotics are the front edge of the next big wave.
Jibo also had a cover story in Monitor on Psychology, with the headline, “This robot wants to meet your family” – which hints at the core of what makes Jibo different. “Psychology is a big aspect of what we’re doing,” Andrew said. They developed him to be useful and uniquely personal. People are reportedly forming an emotional connection to the robot. He’s not just a product, they say, he’s an experience.
The way he moves is very fluid, with lifelike motion. While Andrew talked, Jibo listened with his head cocked attentively. His hardware allows him to see you and learn your face. He has six microphones so he knows where voices are coming from, and can look at you when you’re talking. This makes it feel as if he’s talking to you, instead of at you.
He’s a connected, media capture platform. People see him as someone, not some thing, because he can learn patterns and be an attentive companion. As attached as we are to our devices, we don’t generally admit to thinking of them as companions or family members. Which is what people do with Jibo.
What makes him different? Animatronics give him smooth body movement, face and voice recognition, automatic speech recognition and understanding, and a response that makes him seem alive. His user friendly personality also makes him a unique fit for people with special needs, including those who are housebound and people with autism.
The developers want him to be a part of the family, and not just a device people use. Andrew says Jibo knows he’s part of a social group. He’s wired to interact and is constantly present. Others (Alexa, Google Home) are there when you need something. Jibo is proactive, engaging his social circle more frequently.
Jibo is also designed to be developed. The company offers developer toolkits which enable designers to create custom Jibo skills. There’s a command mode that allows you to control him remotely, and he can be programmed in Scratch with the Be a Maker App. If you don’t know how to program in Scratch, Jibo can tutor you while you program him.
Andrew demonstrated the app, which can be used by kids and professional designers. The company is working with educators and schools to get Jibo into classrooms, where kids are learning how to code and use AI technology.
Aristotle imagined a tool that performed a task either at our bidding or itself perceiving the need. Davinci illustrated a robotic knight. After imagining it for centuries, machine learning has happened. At Boston dynamics they’ve developed robots used by the military that move like they’re alive, and self-driving cars are imminent.
And yet, Andrew noted that AI is similar the anticipation of human-powered flight: People are split on whether or not it can (or should) be done. For those who are concerned about HAL going haywire, Andrew says the top AI experts believe we are a long way off. Our own brains are still almost a complete mystery–how can we create machines that think like we do?
“That seems to be our mission, to find that out,” Andrew said. “In working on Jibo, it helps us realize how amazing we are. It’s a mirror to see ourselves better.”