"It is crucial to keep open, the radical ambiguity of how cyberspace will affect our lives: this does not depend on technology as such but on the mode of social inscription." Slavoj Žižek
Turkey has been in the news for lots of reasons lately, mostly of them political, and concerning, but there are other reasons the country is getting press. The country just recently introduced its first social robot at the International airport. Nely, as the robot is called, is designed to help passengers navigate passport control. The robot is equipped with AI, facial recognition, voice capabilities, a bar code reader, emotional analysis and the ability to greet individual passengers.
The robot can also give information, weather reports and even change travel arrangements. It uses the age, expressions and gender of passengers to alter emotions and tone of voice. Nely can also remember passengers it has interacted with before and even make small talk. According to creator, Frank Berk Güler, the robot was designed in collaboration with sociologists.
Nely is not the only social robot out there, it's just the latest example of how quickly and subtley we are entering a new era of interacting with digital personalities. it is also a reminder that robo-technological innovation doesn't just come from China and Japan. More and more countries are developing technologies that integrate the digital and the social.
A couple of months back I went to a marketing and branding conference that was centered around the effects and potentials of the digital world upon retailing etc. It was a fascinating day of talks and demonstrations from a wide range of creators and thinkers. One of the central themes was centred around AI and voice-technology. With things like Echo and Alexa, more and more of us are interacting and becoming comfortable with digital devices, technologies that are named and are increasingly becoming conversational. It is estimated that by 2022 there will be 5 billion virtual assistants in use globally and some of those will have evolved into virtual companions with the ability to educate, entertain and provide emotional support. It is also estimated by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company that nearly 800 million human jobs will go to robots by 2030, this should give us pause on a number of fronts.
What happens when that many jobs are out-sourced digitally has immense implications for how we deal societally with things like unemployment. if you consider the challenges that many people already face in finding sustainable work it would seem that the future looks even more precarious.
The Italian philosopher, Franco 'Bifo' Berardi, writes in his book, The Soul At Work, that the general form of social existence will be precarious.
"Precariousness is not a particular element of the social relation, but the dark core of the capitalist production in the sphere of the global network where a flow of fragmented recombinant info-labour continuously circulates. Precariousness is the transformative element of a new cycle of production. Nobody is shielded from it."
Technology offers us so much but we should remember that there are losses and gains on any number of levels with any new form. Things do not stay the same and we are often unprepared or ignorant of the potential issues that will arise because of the embrace of a particular technology. Marshal McLuhan wrote about this decades ago and his thoughts on the matter still seem prescient, "we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." We are changed by the technologies we employ, changed positively and negatively.
Nely, and FRAnny, the Frankfurt airport social robot, and may more are just another dimension in the increasing merging of human life and digital technology. It's a wild world and only getting wilder.