Magazine article Strategic Finance

Three Faces of At-Home AI

Magazine article Strategic Finance

Three Faces of At-Home AI

Article excerpt

They're all robots, but each has a different personality defined by its purpose. A vacuum cleaner, an alarm clock, and an entertainment robot--each is artificially intelligent in its own world, and their world is your home.

Roomba is the least interactive. It's supposed to do its work and then put itself away. For a vacuum cleaner, it's pretty smart. It detects dirt, and when it's gotten itself stuck, it launches preprogrammed escape routines. It will talk to you, if you take the trouble to learn its 15 tones and musical messages. It plays a little tune when it's done, another when it has gone back to its charger, and patterns for when it's stuck, starting up, and so on. You can listen, or you don't have to. As part of the marketing, iRobot Corp. reminds everyone that "Roomba is made by roboticists." It's a robot even though it doesn't look like one.

Clocky, on the other hand, insists that you pay attention to it. It's an alarm clock--an experiment from the MIT Media Laboratory. Clocky looks like an egg roll made of carpeting with a digital clock face and two wheels on the ends. When the alarm goes off and the owner hits the snooze button, Clocky rolls off the end table and roams around the floor looking for a place to hide. It rings again, but now the sleeper has to get out of bed to look for the clock. It's programmed, by the way, to find new hiding places each day--the kind of thing that might inspire the iRobot people to design a special attachment to hunt down and sweep up odd pieces of robotics like Clocky. …

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