As kids diving into SF for the first time, we all encountered the stories: the house was aware of who we were, and stood ready to grant any wish within its power to grant. In Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Oddesey, we got to see what this would be like. Even the Hugo Award winning adventure series Girl Genius features a self-aware castle. This is the stuff geeks dream of. Some have even built their own J.A.R.V.I.S., and shown us how.
Meet Cubic. If you’ve been waiting for somebody to just make one you can drop on your desk and use, this is it. Already fully funded via IndieGogo, this device uses advanced speech recognition and some surprisingly sophisticated language analysis to not only hear what you say but keep track of the topic of discussion over several sentences. This means it can hold a conversation, and as you can see in the accompanying video (you’ll probably want to pause the SCIFI.radio stream while you watch it) it’s light years ahead of any other conversational A.I. you’ve ever seen before.
It not only can process natural language better than anything we’ve ever seen, it’s fully customizable. You can choose a male or female voice, upgrade its capabilities from the upcoming Cubic store, teach it your likes and dislikes, and connect it to other smart devices in your home. It can even learn your sense of humor, tell you jokes, and work as your personal digital assistant.
It’s not like Apple’s Siri or Google Now, in that it can span a number of devices and integrate with your home in ways these other applications can’t. Amazon Echo, the next nearest application, can’t control your house either, and is mostly good for asking questions and buying things from Amazon.
The development team at Cubic Robotics go out of their way to say that they were strongly inspired by J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Iron Man movie. This is a classic example of science fiction inspiring science fact, and shows the true value of the genre.
There is some lag. There is absolutely no way this device can do all its processing on board, so it must be using the ‘net to communicate with a cloud based language processor to do the heavy lifting. The slower your internet connection, therefore, the slower the response will be. Shorter phrases are processed almost immediately, but longer ones take more time to upload for processing. As more processing power is added to the Cubic cloud and internet speeds get faster over time, this lag will get smaller and smaller.
The device can hear you wherever you are in the room, and all of them share a collective awareness of you and your daily needs and activities. You can even continue a conversation with it as you walk into the next room, or even via a smart phone app, or via a sort of comm badge that you can carry with you wherever you go.
As near as we can tell, they’re pretty much ready to go into production. Backers who joined for a hundred dollars could get the bluetooth comm badge and phone app, which gives you pretty substantial access right there. The full device, the cube that plugs into the rest of your house, is meant to cost only a couple of hundred dollars. At that price, nearly anyone can afford their very own.
We’re amazed at how far A.I. and natural language processing has advanced in just the last five years. It may not be the flying cars we were promised for the 21st century, but Cubic does a lot to make up for the disappointment.
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