Uncanny Technology: Introducing JIBO

There is an extensive cultural history surrounding robots beginning with their dawn in early literature and later depictions in mainstream film and television. Humans have always been fascinated with the notion of artificially replicating the human form. Now, enter Jibo.

Jibo is a social robot created by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal with her team at MIT. Jibo entered the artificial intelligence scene with a bang, largely surpassing its Indiegogo campaign goal and garnering the attention of many investors (Shandrow, “Jibo, the Personal Robot Startup, lands $25 Million in Funding”). Some of the features listed on myjibo.com are, “Two hi-res cameras that recognize and track faces, capture photos, and enable immersive video calling, 360° microphones and natural language processing, and hands-free reminders and messages” (1).  AlleyWatch calls it, “the social robot of the future” (Alleywatch, “Meet Jibo: The Social Robot of the Future”).

In Professor Tom Gunning’s essay Renewing Old Technologies, he discusses the ways in which new technologies are received and eventually lose their newness. Gunning calls this process “de-familiarization” and claims it is rapidly becoming a short, even instantaneous phenomenon that leads to automatism (22). Despite this phenomenon, Gunning says, “there is another term to mediate between the extremes of astonishment and automatism: the uncanny” (14).  The uncanny is the thing that makes new technology both strikingly familiar and strangely unfamiliar, a sort of gray area, and this gray area is where new technology is rediscovered over time.

I believe this theory certainly holds true for the public reception of Jibo. While some have already dismissed Jibo as something your phone or tablet can already do, others are intrigued by the uniqueness of it (Newman 2). One journalist who got to spend time with Jibo says that, “Jibo skirts way, way around the uncanny valley — there’s little in it that could be confused for a human.” But he then goes on to say that, “it can act in human ways that are compelling… this robot does not move like a robot; it’s fluid and, in fact, animated” (Ulanoff 2-3). Another journalist writes, “with Jibo the idea is that you do not feel like you’re talking to yourself or even to a machine. You feel like you’re talking to someone” (Baker 6). These statements suggest that yes, Jibo is distinctly robotic in a way that is foreign, but it certainly has uncanny qualities (like its voice response and human-like movements) and it is these qualities that blur the line between artificial and human and make it so strangely interesting.

Since Jibo has yet to be widely released, there’s no telling whether or not he’ll become a staple in every future household or just another loaded campaign that doesn’t live up to it’s hype. Regardless, Jibo has certainly opened up a new dialogue about our future with social robots, and if it’s remembered for anything, it will be that.

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Works Cited:

Baker, Billy. “This Robot Means the End of Being Alone.” Editorial. Popular Mechanics. N.p., 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.

Gunning, Tom. Re-newing Old Technologies: Astonishment, Second Nature and the Uncanny in Technology from the Previous Turn-of-the-CenturyMedia In Transition. John and Mary R. Markle Foundation, 26 Feb. 1998. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.

“JIBO, The World’s First Family Robot.” Indiegogo. Rainfactory Inc., 16 July 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.

“Meet JIBO, The World’s First Family Robot.” JIBO. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.

Newman, Jared. “That Jibo Robot Does the Same Stuff as Your Phone, but People Are Freaking Out Anyway.” Editorial. Time. N.p., 16 July 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.

Shandrow, Kim L. “Jibo, the Personal Robot Startup, Lands $25 Million in Funding.” Editorial. Entrepreneur. N.p., 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.

Ulanoff, Lance. “Jibo Wants to Be the World’s First Family Robot.” Mashable. N.p., 16 July 204. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.

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