If Her creeped you out (and let's face it, just looking at Joaquin Phoenix for more than 30 seconds straight can sometimes do the trick) get ready to have your stomach turned inside out again: EmoSpark, an Android-powered artificial intelligence cube for the home, will begin shipping in August 2014.
Or so they say. The company is definitely accepting (paid) EmoSpark pre-orders, and also has the cash of close to 800 Indiegogo backers collected earlier this year. However, as with so many campaigns crowdfunded to the hilt on yet-to-exist products, the AI cube's production and distribution are currently experiencing "delays."
The EmoSpark Website has also fallen under criticism for being filled with more "marketing babble" than technical explanation and evidence.
So while I would strongly suggest those interested in the cube wait to make their purchase until stock is in and ready to send out, I still think the EmoSpark concept alone is worthy of discussion. Both in terms of what it aims to do, and the philosophical questions those capabilities bring up. Like, is it healthy to introduce the world to empathetic machines? Are we going to get even more messed up as a race subbing AI for real human contact? Most importantly, if these cubes come to fruition, will we eventually be able to install them inside a mechanical Real Girl doll?
What Is EmoSpark?
The EmoSpark Wi-Fi/Bluetooth AI cube pairs with various home and smart devices to enable users to create and interact with "an emotionally concise intelligence". Its capabilities include conversation, playing DJ, and streaming visual media enhanced and tailored just for you. Its King. Its Master. Its Big Poppa. According to EmoSpark creators, the system will take your experiences gaming, watching TV, and using your smartphone and computer to near-Star-Trek levels. Further, the cube will make you feel loved and understood as no one ever has before. Or at least maybe keep you entertained with boobie slideshows when that jackhole Cornelius is 20 minutes late picking you up from the YMCA on the hottest day of the year.
What EmoSpark Can Do
The EmoSpark cube is remotely accessible through video conferencing software. Once connected, users can interact and talk with it (or him or her - you can definitely EmoName the cube and assign it a voice) through text to speech and Android's voice recognition functionality. And since new experiences constantly modify and inform the cube, the EmoSpark app gives users the ability to remotely witness the intensity and nuances of its own emotional status in real time. Like women, EmoSpark will always share its reactions with the user, either via a TV, smartphone, or tablet apps.
One of EmoSpark's predominant The Future Is Now features is its emotion, face detection, and emotional profile graphing capabilities. In other words, the cube can thoroughly measure an individual's unique behavior and responses to stimuli, as well as the emotional responses of multiple people simultaneously. Over time, EmoSpark will create a customized Emotional Profile Graph (EPG) for its primary user. The EPG allows the cube to virtually "feel" senses (i.e., pleasure and pain) and express them in response to the user's sentiments and behavior.
An appealing application of the EPG is the EmoSpark media player, software that combines media (e.g., Soundcloud, You Tube), emotion, and social networking into a system that rates what is played to a user based on his/her personalized emotional response. The AI cube permanently records the data it collects and eventually learns what media makes its companion happy, sad, excited, etc.
How EmoSpark Works
In much the same way the human brain puts to memory reactions and feelings about physical and emotional stimuli, EmoSpark's EPG registers and builds a bank of emotional associations with each piece of data it contains. According to the developers:
The EPG can communicate the data to other AI technologies, allowing them to virtually "understand" the user and elicit the same emotional response in kind. This response is then accurately conveyed to other AI technologies, allowing for a realistic range of expressions and interaction.
Other EmoSpark Features
Some additional semi-creepy EmoSpark attributes that might indicate you're about to fall in love with a piece of plastic and its software:
- Conversational Intelligence. EmoSpark has a conversational engine of over 2 million lines of data, so each time you chat with it you'll contribute to the development of its own conversational understanding based on the context of your interaction. EmoSpark interacts by searching through the records of previous conversations, and selecting an appropriate response to your comments.
- EmoSpark Cubes Can Chat & Date Each Other Online. Once a reliable EPG is established, EmoSpark will seek out other cubes to talk to about its experiences, and probably commiserate with about what a-holes their owners are. Cubes can engage in social activities, share media, and, oh man, who knows what else together.
- 32 Million Synchronized Colors. This AI can "feel" along the emotional spectrum based on 7 primal human emotions: joy; sadness; trust; disgust; fear; anger; surprise; and anticipation. The mixture of these emotions inside the cube's Emotion Processing Unit (EPU) generates sound- and color-appropriate light waves. Users can experience this as it occurs by watching the EmoSpark's eye in the EmoSpark app or on their TV. The iris of the eye changes colors according to the emotions the cube is feeling at any given moment--32 million colors in all.