Cynthia Breazeal on The Personal Side of Robots

Cynthia Breazeal on The Personal Side of Robots

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Cynthia Breazeal on The Personal Side of Robots

Session Description: Meet Jibo, “the first social robot for the home who looks, listens and learns.”
The transcript can be found below, with a PDF version available here.

The Personal Side of Robots

(Transcription by RA Fisher Ink)

Kampel: Cynthia Breazeal is the founder and chief scientist at Jibo, of which I will let her explain and show.

Breazeal: All right, it’s great to be here. I think this is going to be something a little different. The theme of this is the kind of human side or personal side of robots and AI. So I wear two hats. I am a professor at MIT; I am recognized as a founder and pioneer of this field of social robotics, that I’ll tell you a little more about today. And I’m also going to tell you a little about the commercial journey and really thinking about the space of AI in our lives, AI that we actually live with as part of daily life and how this particular kind of technology, I think, situates in the opportunity of the years ahead.
All right, so even as of five years ago, right, how we experience and live with AI is fundamentally differently. Flashing back to the summer of 2014, this is when, early stages of Jibo, we did our first Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. This was the summer before Amazon announced Alexa. And I remember during that time there was a lot of questions about, everybody assumed that the smartphone was going to be the interface to everything in the home. And there was a real question of are people even willing to talk to these kinds of devices, right? That was a real, real question back then.
Well, of course we now think, been answered, right? So certainly, the ease and convenience of far field speech in the home, the kind of sense of this ambient AI on tap, has changed the way we relate to technology in a really important way but also who interacts with technology. So I choose an image here particularly of children. Now we’re starting to see very young children, as well as a senior that’s like 98 years old, interacting with AI on a daily basis. So that’s just really, really different, right? So the question then is, is this the beginning of this whole new kind of category? If so, how is it going to evolve and grow over time?
So whenever you’re in a new area of technology you always want to think you’re the next big thing. [LAUGHS] So I have AI robotics as the next big thing. And of course, that subsumes many, many different areas of AI and robotics, when you think about intelligent cars, and manufacturing and things like that. But I particularly want to talk about social robotics, right?
So social robotics is a kind of technology that actually interacts with you like a social other. It can engage you in much more humanistic, humanized interaction, more like when you—image, maybe if you’re this old, like I am, back to those days when you saw Star Wars for the first time and really fantasized about that social robot sidekick companion. That’s really kind of the crux of what social robotics is about.
When we look at this curve, social robotics is positioned in a really fascinating context in that it really builds on the prior three big waves. So from mobile ecosystems, now social robotics are built as platforms. You have developers who can create lots of new skills and opportunities for that robot. Social robotics are deep into the socioemotional—we know the wave of social computing. And then of course from deep learning and cloud computing, we have the power and the growth of AI. So social robotics in many ways leverages all of those in a really unique way.
But when I think about AI, especially when you bring it into the home, there’s a whole other set of questions. So I’m not only a scientist and an innovator, I’m also a mom. And I put a lot of time and attention into trying to craft the experience of home, and even when I bring AI and devices into my home, I want it to fit into that environment in the right way, right? This is where my family lives, this is where the people who I love live, right? So when I think about the future of AI, I want to believe that we will not have truly fulfilled its potential unless we can answer this question, which is that AI should help us to flourish. Not just be more effective and productive, but actually to live our lives better and in deeper, more meaningful ways.
And so I’m talking about things like education, how can you bring education from the schools into the homes so that every child has a successful education and can get the jobs that we all hope they can aspire to? How can we have our parents age in place? How can we manage chronic diseases? These are areas where social and emotional engagement are really profound and known to have the best outcomes. But most of our technologies today are very transactional. They’re very tool-like. They don’t engage us in this new humanistic way that I think I critical for a lot of these deeper, more meaningful impacts.
So this is a collage of social robots that have been designed in my lab for the last 20 years, deploying them, designing them for children around learning, in hospitals around pediatrics, in aging facilities to deal with socioemotional coordination and communication between seniors as they age. So many, many, many different domains. And what I hope you can see from this video is just an appreciation. People relate and engage to this technology fundamentally differently than any other technology, right? It is deeply relational. It taps into our human nature of wanting to connect socially and emotionally to other, even if that other is a technology. And we’ve seen this again and again and it spans generations, right? It’s not just about kids. We’ve seen it across all generations.
And for me this is just a technology that profoundly speaks to our human nature. And it’s about this emotional lift, right? Because it’s one thing to know something, it’s a totally different thing when you care. Because when you care, you invest yourself into it, you engage, and you keep coming back, right? And when you talk about education and health and these areas of deep importance to us, that sustained emotional engagement is really critical. And this is a technology that brings that, unlike any other technology.
So when I think about the kind of trajectory of technology today and where it could potentially go—in fact, where I believe it needs to go, given a lot of societal challenges we face today, the current trajectory I would say is very much technology is a useful tool, right? So whether it’s the internet or the smartphone or social media or wearables, or even I would put things like the voice active agents in this category, they’re super useful tools and it’s been about the democratization of access to information networks. Very, very practical kind of utilitarian sort of use cases.
But there’s so many big demands here, when you talk about education, the inequality of education, even in our country today, how can we leverage AI to even that out? The ability to age, health, wellness, veterans, these are sustained engagement opportunities where, again, that emotional-social support is critical over a long period of time. But then even when you think about high-touch applications like hospitality or retail, you still need to have that high-touch engagement, and these are domains where it’s not about robots replacing people. There aren’t even enough people. These are areas where we keep hearing again and again, we are understaffed, we are over tapped, we need help, we need support, but of the right kind of technology. So for me, social robotics is this high touch engagement in a technology that can now be scalable and affordable to really lead to this future potentially of ubiquitous personalized service and attention, right? That doesn’t exist today. But I think this is really a big opportunity area for this area of social robotics.
So at Jibo, then, it leverages all of these insights over all of these years of research. We talk about the experience of Jibo as these four Ps, right? So we have, I’m going to start with personality. Jibo has a very different personality than other technologies today. Many others are kind of adult, female, personal assistant-type demeanors. Jibo has a warm, friendly technology. He’s funny. He’s almost more like, again, those kinds of droids you see in Star Wars. I say he’s not just user-friendly, he’s actually friendly. And that makes a big difference in engagement in the home.
Importantly, also, Jibo is a physical social presence. He moves. He looks at you when you talk to him. He conveys these interpersonal nonverbal cues. So it’s not just speech, it’s nonverbal. And we know from human communication, 60–80 percent of what people understand when you communicate is nonverbal. The nonverbals are what make you trust, feel affiliation, liking, all these other things around social perceptions. We see people apply all of that to social robots.
Jibo can personalize. When we talk about relationship and learning about you over time, it’s not about setting settings in your app to help one particular skill, it’s through conversation to get you knowing in a more general way that you can apply that knowledge across the repertoire of skills the robot can do. So personalization for Jibo is done very, very differently.
Jibo is always on. He’s not kind of silent, disappearing into the backdrop. He is like that social robot companion. So he has a living presence, and because he has a living, animate presence, he has the permission in people’s homes to actually even be proactive, right? So to be able to greet you in the morning proactively—it’s just treating you like a person and not like technology. But also to do that in useful ways, like to remind you of things or to suggest things to you, to remind you about what your goals are, right? So proactivity to be found in practice is a huge factor that leads to sustained engagement of Jibo, way more than other devices. So sustained engagement.
And the last thing is purpose. So purpose is really about what is the job of Jibo in your life? It can be different if you’re in the home or if you’re a corporation who has a vertical opportunity in hospitals or aging or education or any other domain. That’s what the purpose is about.
So again, this is about a different kind of relationship with technology that really is the intersection of these three aspects of humanlike, motivating ally, an internet-connected tool like any other kind of technology can do, but then also this attentive companion that, again, is what creates that emotional lift that’s so unique to this technology.
So Jibo is a platform, right, so when you talk about either the B2C, bringing AI into the home, or whether you’re talking about empowering banks or the Veteran’s administration or hotels to use this highly humanistic engaging front end to connect to your cloud, to kind of bring your content and services to life with this different kind of humanized, deeper engagement, that’s really what the opportunity of Jibo is about. And through the platform, I believe this future personalized robots, these social robots can attain all of those high impact categories I’ve just talked about.
And one of the first things we’ve been able to launch through these partnerships is with NTT/Everest, a company who’s developed and just launched a new app called Be A Maker. So Scratch is a programming language that was developed at the media lab. Two hundred million kids use Scratch over a course of a year. So this a very, very well-known graphical interfacing paradigm. Now kids can program a super sophisticated AI robot like Jibo with Scratch. And I think this is also really critical because as children are growing up with AI and robotics, they need to know that they’re empowered to create and design with this technology. Otherwise, this divide between the have and have-nots can be potentially exacerbated and not closed. So we need to democratize who creates with IA and so I am super passionate about this particular theme.
So in closing then, you know, again, we’re at the very, very beginning of this AI robot hopefully next big thing. Jibo is presenting a very unique experience that really again taps into I think the way we always thought about robots as kids. And through this, I mean, again, it’s just an appreciation that Jibo is not created by a single company, right? The world will create Jibo. The world will create the skills and capabilities that shape what social robotics will be in our lives. And we’ve had so many emails from people over many, many different capabilities and ages all aspiring to what they see Jibo could do for them, which is incredibly, incredibly inspiring. So I’m going to end there, and to learn more, you can go to  Thank you.


Cynthia Breazeal

Founder & Chief Scientist, Jibo

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