How AI-enabled toys are molding our children [PART 2]

In China, where families are limited to bearing one child, AI Toys play the role of friendly Robot Companion as much as they do educational aid. It may sound absurd that a robot could ever be a friend, however, this unexpected vertical for AI Toys is really taking off:

…an estimated 30 million AI educational robots were sold in China this year, and next year the number is expected to exceed 100 million

Serenitie Wang, CNN

BeanQ is one of these Robot Companions. It’s a social robot equipped with similar voice intelligence that we see in Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. More than anything, toddlers use BeanQ as a “question-answerer” since we all know how young-ins love to pepper people with questions. Additionally, the small, kidney-shaped robot displays emojis and emotional intelligence to make interactions more lifelike. And it’s pretty cute to boot.

A similar product here in the US is Jibo. Jibo imagines their device as a great social companion for kids – in a way documenting their early life, engaging the kid when their parent(s) isn’t around.

Techie families may invariably dive into buying these AI Toys because they are intriguing. But, lots of families are turned off by the privacy concerns and the fact that they’re teaching their kids to talk to a machine. However, Ryan had an interesting take on these social robots:

As the second child in my family, by the time I hit about 12 or 13, my parents felt comfortable leaving me home alone if they were going out. I loved being treated like an adult, but also felt lonely in our cold, dark basement watching TV late at night. A product like Jibo intrigues me because I can imagine how an animate robot would’ve made me feel safer. Just seeing Jibo make “shoulder shrugs” and movements here and there would’ve made me feel like a friend was close by.

Ryan alludes to a strong conceptual argument in favor of these Robot Companions: they aren’t here to replace interactions with friends and family, but rather to fill in the gaps when those people aren’t present.

Parents get busy and friends aren’t always free to hang. Robot Companions, on the other hand, are always an open-ear. In this way, they are the futuristic version of a pet animal. They are a physical presence used for comfort and emotional connection.

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A Friendly Robotic Presence

Just five years from now, in 2023, the global market for consumer robots is expected to reach $14.9B, increasing from $5.4B today. Bloomberg adds that in the US, the market will exceed $4B by 2025.

This is why Amazon is working on creating a robotic version of their Echo voice-activated speakers. It’s why Alphabet bought (but has since sold) Boston Dynamics and reportedly have other robot projects under wraps today. The companies with the biggest balance sheets are getting in on this industry, which is a sign of great potential.

Most notably, Apple has co-signed a brand of Robot Companions known as Anki. Anki’s latest companion is called Vector – a tiny, tractor-shaped robot with a lot of personality. Vector is spatially aware which allows it to roll around the house without getting into any trouble. It basically just kind of chills and acts as a friendly robotic presence.

Some may look at Vector as a useless piece of plastic. But, Anki is priming a futuristic market of robot companions that roam our houses. Although Vector can’t even make us a piece of toast today, many iterations down the line, it will.

We’re only a few years into this market of AI-enabled Toys and Robot Companions. Anki, Jibo, BeanQ, and SoftBank Robotics are all laying the cultural groundwork for this market to flourish in the future. They’re getting people comfortable with the idea of a robotic presence in their household.

Imagine a company introducing an all-in-one robotic housekeeper like Rosie the Robot today. They may as well be selling us a UFO because the masses just aren’t ready for this.

I believe this is why most companies are focusing on making cute toys that intrigue little kids. Children have tremendous buying power, largely fueling the madness of Holiday shopping. And by tailoring their products to kids, they are seeding the market for long-term household robotics users.

Today, AI Toys and Robot Companions are serving the early education market. In eight years, they will have mastered the art of conversation with people of all ages. And by 2038, 90% of American households will be able to afford a household robot.

There’s a plethora of functions that robots will fill in our future lives – from educational aids to friendly companions to chore do-ers. I want to make this message loud and clear that the home is a sacred place, a place we can create however we’d like – high-tech, low-tech, no-tech. It’s very important to realize that robots can serve a great purpose in the home, but the choice is yours as to what level they’ll be present.

Read Part 1 of this article here

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