How close are we to reaching Westworld?

By Marina Golden, Senior Associate

Truthfully, while at SXSW, I was expecting to hear about advances in robots and artificial intelligence that could drive our world much closer to the tech of the HBO show in a few years. But the reality was actually far from that; the technology is years and years away from being that sophisticated and comprehensive. However, that’s actually a good thing since tech companies are still navigating the murky waters of what users want in AI. Often times, people are frightened at the thought of AI, partially due to Hollywood perpetuating this idea of terror and dystopia.

When listening to Kaijen Hsiao from Mayfield Robotics and Patrick Chang from Samsung NEXT Ventures, I picked up on an important commonality between these two separate sessions on AI: users need to feel an emotional connection to AI in order to accept it into their life as a norm. Research has shown that users are more open to using AI devices that have a personality and can somehow resonate with how they feel. When voice technology first emerged, it was almost laughable to bark commands at Siri, but now people talk to her like she’s a friend of theirs. Users trust her, she’s reliable, she picks up on themes (or learnings) that makes people feel like she resonates with them – it’s that emotional connection that bridges the gap between robot and companion.

Speaking alongside Samsung’s Chang, Arte Merrit, co-founder of Dashbot, explained that the majority of Facebook users engage in conversations with chatbots. Some of these chats pertain to information requests but more notably, users often engage with the chatbots on a personal level. Almost 25% of users actually sent selfies to the chatbot in order for the bot to know more about them, creating some sort of personal connection.

In another example, Mayfield’s Hsaio created Kuri, an androgynous, spunky robot, in order to fulfill her desire to have a member of her family similar to Wall-E or BB8. Kuri is very animated and can emote happiness, sadness, and surprise with her eyes – making her look like more than a screen but an actual member of the family. She’s autonomous and roams her area similar to the way a pet would. In fact, she barks at dogs, meows at cats, and randomly sneezes just as a normal pet would. She dances to your favorite music, keeps watch of your house while you’re gone and even apologizes for bumping into you. Hsaio found that people were more likely to accept a physical robot with AI smart enough to identify various life forms if it had personality and fit seamlessly within the user’s normal routine.

While society may not be ready for Westworld’s Dolores Abernathy, AI and robots that can elicit feelings from users are the next steps forward in this field. And the truth is, AI or not, the same insights can be applied to day-to-day life for our brands. People always respond to and engage with content and products that resonate, personally speaks to them, and evokes an emotional reaction.