Cool toys fascinate me, and, if they serve a purpose, they are winners in my book. Each year, the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas showcases inventions that stretch my imagination. Some of the gadgets are simply “concept cars,”— prototypes still to be tweaked—and others are market-ready products, but they all demonstrate technology’s potential to make our daily lives easier and meet a purpose, whether functional or fun .
But what if technology’s purpose was to be your best friend? Move over, Fido. Meet Ballie, the cute little companion robot from Samsung. Ballie, a yellow ball that looks slightly larger than a tennis ball, is designed to roll along on the floor, follow you around and listen to your commands, As she followed Samsung CEO H.S. Kim around the stage during his keynote at CES, she seemed to connect with him with adorable chirpy sounds reminiscent of Tweety Bird. Although still a prototype, Ballie is a toy I can’t wait to get as soon as she comes to market. Sorry Popcorn, I know you will be jealous, but I am sure Ballie will amaze you, annoy you but finally win you over. Note, I ascribed a gender to her, although Ballie is gender neutral.
Ok, I know what some of you must be thinking: What has technology come to? How dehumanizing to have a robotic ball as a companion? And it doesn’t even look like a dog or a cat! But wait, think about other toy pets from rocks to robots. Think about R2-D2 in Starwars, the loyal robot who protected Padme and Luke Skywalker, or Rosie, the Jetson's loyal maid. These robotic helpers had jobs, following commands and completing tasks. But it doesn’t look like Ballie will have tasks other than to look cute, interact and be your companion.
Is it possible to feel attachment, affection and, even, love for a robotic companion? I think the answer is yes, and that’s what’s special about humans and that’s what makes us who we are. We feel, we emote, and we think. While robotics and AI have come a long way, human beings have a cognitive capability and a spirit that is immeasurable.