Social Networking Robot Actually Respects Privacy

[Fribo] the robot is a research project in the form of an adorable unit that hears and speaks, but doesn’t move. Moving isn’t necessary for it to do its job, which is helping people who live alone feel more connected with their friends. What’s more interesting (and we daresay, unusual) is that it does this in a way that respects and maintains individuals’ feelings of privacy. To be a sort of “social connector and trigger” between friends where every interaction is optional and opt-in was the design intent behind [Fribo].

The device works by passively monitoring one’s home and understands things like the difference between opening the fridge and opening the front door; it can recognize speech but cannot record and explicitly does not have a memory of your activities. Whenever the robot hears something it recognizes, it will notify other units in a circle of friends. For example, [Fribo] may suddenly say “Oh, one of your friends just opened their refrigerator. I wonder what food they are going to have?” People know someone did something, but not who. From there, there are two entirely optional ways to interact further: knocking indicates curiosity, clapping indicates empathy, and doing either reveals your identity to the originator. All this can serve as an opportunity to connect in some way, or it can just help people feel more connected to others. The whole thing is best explained by the video embedded below, which shows several use cases.

In this day and age of treating people like data to be intrusively mined, it’s downright charming for a project’s vision to be something as simple and wholesome as being a reminder that there are others out there, sharing everyday activities. Of course, on the opposite end of [Fribo]’s minimalist visage is this robot that communicates entirely with animated gifs.

[Fribo] is a project by [Kwangmin Jeong], [Jihyun Sung], [Haesung Lee], [Aram Kim], [Hyem Kim], [Chanmi Park], [Youin Jeong], [JeeHang Lee], and [Jinwoo Kim] from Yonsei University in Korea.

27 thoughts on “Social Networking Robot Actually Respects Privacy

  1. Still creepy and crackable.
    But I understand the sentiment.
    I think using it as a PA system that only broadcasts singing and home made music to other people for them to sing along with in one giant internet friendship sing-off would be a great feature.

  2. I might just still be sore and paranoid. I mean that’s definitely the case, but anyway… I feel like friendly or minimally-intrusive things like this only normalize the senseless broadcasting of our private lives, and pave the way for more explicit, exposed, and personally-targeted monitoring.

    Why am I broadcasting something as mundane and private as opening the fridge to get a midnight snack? Why is it supposed to be so reassuring that the information doesn’t explicitly identify me?

    I know nobody is forcing me to use one of these home AIs that monitors people for seemingly no tangible benefit, but this reminds me of a very similar situation that has already happened. Not long ago there were refuseniks who didn’t want to use smart phones, or cell phones at all, because of concerns about loss of privacy, individualism, and the expectation that everyone needs to be reachable and thus obligated to answer and do things anywhere and at any moment. Those people were assured that they didn’t have to use them if they didn’t want to.

    Now it’s clear the disadvantage of not having a smart phone is too great to voluntarily abstain from, and here we are in our unfolding black mirror episode / cyberpunk dystopia where constantly connected still isn’t enough; total panopticon isn’t enough; infinite data mining and correlation isn’t enough. And we want to add on top of it these myriad devices that listen to us in our homes, an intelligent device that can determine what we’re doing at all times. Of course we already have that danger in our phones, and it’s not just inside our home. It’s always on our person.

    But the psychological idea of an AI listening to us at all times and analyzing us was not one of the original expectations with a phone, and still is not the connotation that comes to mind when most people think of a phone. A few decades ago people would riot if they knew what is happening today was in store for them. People born today will completely take for granted the existence and total ubiquitousness of devices that listen to you and calculate what you are doing, and why, at all times, every day, everywhere.

    Perhaps this is craziness, I’m overreaching and overreacting. But I think people should think about the effect of normalization that these products have. It’s not only about the capabilities of the specific gizmo, the security measures it supposedly has. Even if the promises are truthful and the security is very good, it causes us to accept such a thing into our homes and to stop thinking of it as unusual or potentially alarming.

    Reflect on the fact that a cell phone didn’t start out with a GPS that tracks you, and has calculated without asking where you work, where you sleep, your usual daily cycling route, where your mistress or drug dealer lives. And through other data it tracks your spending habits, knows if you’re ovulating, can recognize your face in a crowd, can listen to your conversations and pick out key words. Many more invasions. And who knows what other clever ways people will think of correlating that data in the future–it used to just be a phone.

    These home AIs are going to eventually make us homeless. No place will be private or safe or comfortable. People won’t be forced to use them, but society will become so ingratiated with these devices that it will be incredibly disabling and ostracizing not to have one. In the future, just like we apparently aren’t rejecting the things I stated above, people will not reject a machine learning algorithm having total access to your home, listening to and watching everything you do, and inferring with uncanny accuracy what you will do before you’re even sure of it yourself. All the while giving out that data to arbitrary groups of people who don’t have your well-being even remotely in mind.

    This particular device seems well-designed, harmless, and well-intentioned. But I hope people think twice before making always-listening, always-broadcasting learning machines a ubiquitous part of our society. I’m afraid it’s completely vain to try to stop it. I’m normally not a luddite, and maybe I’m getting old, but this seems different.

      1. That’s an interesting way to phrase it. I feel bad whenever I push against new tech, honestly. But these days see some very strange developments. I gotta rant and rave, I’m an old man with a keyboard.

      2. In the case of autodrive it’s because people* are terrible at driving. Even the sub-par systems we have now, have better averages than humans.

        * that’s people in general, not anyone specifically.

    1. Ian M. Banks wrote some nice books where AI is actually positively contributing to humanity. Quite refreshing, after reading so much dystopian bullcrap around AI.

      The issue with AI is that as long as it’s under control of people, it can be used for good or for evil. Only when AI’s are truly independent AND have good morals (and why shouldn’t they? there are many humans with good morals too), is there a chance for them to contribute positively to humanity. That is… If they actually WANT to do that, instead of just hanging around trying to enjoy themselves as much as possible. :)

      1. Oh yeah, agi is a whole different thing. Way too early to know how that will work imo, or even if it will work. Agi might be so psychologically strange compared to us that communication would be impossible. It wouldn’t share hardly any context or experiences with humans. I for one think that if we become capable of creating agi, we have an ethical imperative to do so. And think agi will be good insomuch as all other life is basically good.

        This is not agi though. It’s a learning algorithm meant to organize us into marketing categories for advertisers, mainly. With novelty entertainment and home automation thrown in as a hook. We’re already seeing huge problems in society relating to the use of advertising artificial intelligence. It’s no longer speculative fiction. Elections, for example.

    2. Oh, and there is more. Tech companies spout off about a Universal Wage, because so few people will be required to produce, maintain and distribute the things people need. Larger cities seem to grow larger, to the point they are becoming “people hives”. Add extremist environmentalism and in the future the average citizen will be force to be vegan and stay within walking distance of the domicile. But you will have you phone (i.e. personal thought monitor). Welcome to the future! And we all thought it would be flying cars and vacations on the moon.

      That was today’s pointless rant. Maybe I need to put my Nexus Magazine down.

      1. “Tech companies spout off about a Universal Wage, because so few people will be required to produce, maintain and distribute the things people need.”

        You are complaining about this? Arguing against it?

        If someone argued that we are at that point today and you argued back that you disagree I would understand that.

        If you were arguing that it is never going to happen, that we are going to hit a technological wall that can never be overcome so that human labor is always necessary in per/population quantities similar to today then I would neither agree nor disagree but I would respect your point as possibly having merit.

        But.. you seem to be saying that a future where we don’t have to work (much) is a bad thing. i have bad news for you. You are going to die. So am I. And so far no one has been able to provide any reliable evidence that there is anything after that. I hope there is but I sure don’t want to piss away the one life that I know I have doing stupid busy work that could have been automated just because some people thing that it’s better this way.

        We should all do our part so long as there is work that needs to be done but only because the work needs to be done. When it is not needed then spend your time doing something better.

    3. “Reflect on the fact that a cell phone didn’t start out with a GPS that tracks you”

      I hope you understand that a GPS unit does not track you. It cannot. All it can do is calculate your current position for you. To track you requires storing your location at different times and sending that information to a third party. The GPS is only one part of a tracking device.

      I point this out not to be pedantic but to make a broader point. It’s not our tools and technology that are eroding our privacy. It’s our lack of control over the software that runs those tools. The tools that have been combined to create our modern smartphone are incredibly useful when used together. We do not need to go back to how things used to be 20 years or more ago. Life was not better in the past and doing so would not be an improvement. Most of the functionality we enjoy could be retained if we demanded to have more control over what software runs on our devices and if we chose solutions which either keep our data local to our devices or make a secure connection back to our own servers running at home rather than accepting the ‘cloud’ as the first and only solution to every problem.

      1. I understand that gps alone can’t track you, i was referring to the fact that the phone uses gps and reports to Google or whatever other service. I get your point, I’m referring to the whole amalgamation that the phone is becoming, now adding ai assistants and such as well.

        I wouldn’t suggest some kind of reversal of technology, obviously that would never happen.

    4. You lay out a variety of good points, but I think you assume that people “simply will” be OK with it. But, especially in communities like this, there can be substantial resistance to overreaching activities.

      The biggest problem, to my mind, is effort. But then again, that’s always the problem. The majority of the software which runs on my devices is open-source. That’s no guarantee that it’s not creeping on me, but it’s an improvement. It took me awhile to reach the skill level I am to run all this stuff “easily”, but that’s always improving. And look at the (sadly brief, but) massive pushbacks against companies which screw up their data-handling.

      When it comes down to it, I think a lot of people are aware that there is some data mining going on with their lives, but are generally OK with it. I think they’re finding their center, the balance of “I allow companies to know where I like to have lunch and in return I am given the ability to shout an arbitrary destination at a brick in my pocket and have it guide me there.” This is *the future*, in so many ways.

      GPS, effective microphones, high-speed data connections – they are all features in their own right, usable for very cool things. But there’s still work involved in making those cool things happen, and nothing in this world is free. So how do you pay that? In what ways do you resist?

      I resist until I find a balance I’m happy with, and I imagine that many other people do as well. I carry a separate work phone (and will probably transition to dropping it into a Faraday cage when I’m off the clock at some point – chip bags work!), I disable GPS on my phone (I don’t think Google has done Apple’s “we automatically reenable GPS after 18h or less” yet), I have configured Firefox to essentially reset itself every time I close the browser. But LinkedIn’s app doesn’t like the OS I’m running on my phone, so I use the website. The local grocery store’s membership app doesn’t either, so “oh well”.

      I like to think that the general populace will start putting effort into considering their privacy/security stance “soon”, but am unsurprised that they are not currently doing so. We are tech enthusiasts – we see every screwup, we’ve probably all read 1984 or something similar, but they may not – it may take some time for non-enthusiasts to come to grips with the failure rate and the full extent of sketchiness. They may not agree with us about how bad it is – our subculture tends to be relatively privacy-obsessed. But this transition has *just started*. Infrastructure worldwide is shockingly insecure, milennials are still buying popularity on social media, etc. etc. I think it still has a lot of maturing to do, itself and its representation in the minds of the average person, before we can forecast doom and gloom.

      All that said, I’d feel a lot more comfortable if I saw stronger signs that more people are asking questions! I’m still a very https://xkcd.com/743/ kind of guy. But I’m not going to fault people for making alternatives. The makers of [Fribo] tried to make a less-creepy alternative for those people who love their hyper-connectivity. I don’t understand them, but I recognize their existence. [Diaspora] is doing the same thing. And I think the creation and maintenance of alternatives is the most important thing – because people generally may not be willing or able to be proactive, but there should at least be a means for them to be reactive.

      1. I’m glad there is pushback, but it seems very symbolic and short-lived. Not the kind of civil disobedience needed to accomplish change. Lots of defeatism in society, like most superpower countries when they start to coast downhill. A lot like Russia after the Soviet Union.

        I obviously hope I’m wrong, but even us tech nerds have become extremely submissive. Remember when it was a big no-no to even use a real name online? Obviously things have changed a lot for multiple reasons in that respect, but we have very radically readjusted our privacy and security expectations in a very short period of time, and i have to assume that’s part of a trend that will continue. And we need to be prepared to lose herd immunity. We will very soon be surrounded by people with no motivated desire for privacy or personal security and be under a lot of pressure to accept the advantages of that society because it will be the only society available.

  3. It begs the question- why are people so lonely now that they need a digital friend to interface them to other loanly friends.
    Have we become lazy and so self centered we want something else to interact with other people for us.

    1. No. i think it started with laziness but at some point it progressed to something much worse. It’s not just that people don’t want to get off their asses and see each other in person. It’s that they have been doing things this way, especially among younger people has become normal. I think there is actually a common sentiment out there perhaps subconscious or maybe even a part of conscious thought that to expect a friend to actually talk via voice let alone go somewhere and physically spend time with you in person is presumptive and rude.

      That’s just the problem with friendships. It’s even worse when it comes to dating. I watch my single friends try and try to find a mate via dating sites. They might go months communicating with the same person several times a day yet never actually meet. They actually become emotionally attached to someone that they have never seen in person. Then when one side or the other insists on an actual date it all ends.

      What happened to just going to a bar or other place where singles tend to gather and meeting someone? What’s wrong with one person walking up to another and attempting to strike up a face to face conversation? Today we have SJW morons teaching our kids that a guy saying hello to a pretty girl is some sort of rape! Perhaps this is how our population will control it’s own size.

      I’m so glad I married before things got so messed up!

      1. You are looking at this from the perspective of a middle-aged dude, married (or single), young, able-bodied, etc.

        Put yourself in the shoes of an elderly person, perhaps a widow/widower, kids grown and gone – can’t drive thanks to shit eyesight, basically stuck at home puttering around with nothing to do and waiting for death. Or they can sit around and watch TV, which is what a lot of people’s grandparents did/do.

        Wouldn’t it be nice to have a very casual connection to someone else? The thing with the fridge door – think of it as having a roommate. The fridge door opening is just a casual reminder that hey, someone else is out there, and you can start a conversation up with them if you want. No, you’re not intruding – you sort of share a “virtual” space already via this device. It’s comforting to have another human presence there, even if it’s just a telepresence.

        None of this has anything to do with whatever the hell you were ranting on about there.

  4. I can see the “reason” behind that. If you have a group of friends but you don’t want to “disturb” each other because you respect their free time, this is neat. Often I contact a friend by just sending a sticker or so via some messenger and wait for his reply. This basically does it for me.
    BUT – and this is the big but(t):
    It’s another device in my home that is active and using my privacy. Yes yes – my phone can do the same, yadda yadda. I know.
    But I don’t need more than that. This “assistant” uses more of a social connection than the stupid other devices like Alexa and Google Home. “Alexa, play my Spotify playlist *insert-random-name*”. In that time I have my phone and done that manually. Speech assistant is no necessity where I live and I think this social behavior of this device seems “better” than the rest.

    But then on the other hand, I’m quite happy that I can just use a messenger of my choice to initiate communication to my friends and wait for them to reply.

  5. You want privacy ?!!??? Shut the eF up !! and don’t post $hit online !!!
    So simple a caveman could do it !
    It’s incredulous to hear folks complaining of face-crap privacy violations – when the dumbazzes themselves *VOLUNTARILY* put all their personal business out there for all to see…..the human ego knows no shame !

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