As we speak (or write?) CES 2016 is currently taking place in Las Vegas. Well, OK, given the time difference between Manchester and the Nevada desert it’s more likely the remnants of a few after show parties will be taking place right now. Nevertheless, one of the world’s biggest exhibitions of future technology got underway this week in the land of hangovers, missing teeth and themed casinos, bringing to light one interesting trend.
If you keep an eye on media headlines, chances are news that Netflix is set to expand its reach to cover most of the world won’t have passed you by. As the platform is churning out some phenomenally popular in-house content (not least the epic documentary, Making A Murder, which everyone is talking about), this increase in coverage territories isn’t surprising. Nor is it particularly innovative.
In contrast, the streaming service’s announcement that it’s new focus point is working towards being able to match viewing suggestions with the moods of its audience, is. This may sound like something from the future, and in many ways that’s bag on the money. Long has (largely dystopian) science fiction been obsessed with the relationship between the emotions of organic beings and tech- from Brave New World to 1984, THX 1133 to A Clockwork Orange.
It all makes perfect sense, really. The more ‘conscious’ or aware our devices and services are, the less likely we are to get irritated when we’re in the early stages of a nightmare breakup and every movie suggestion ends with a happily ever after. That said, sometimes we want to see things that represent the exact opposite of what we’re feeling or experiencing in real life at that moment, so perhaps that’s a bad example. Nevertheless, you get the point.
Another new invention that has featured at CES is the so-called ‘hugging robot’. Designed to be a real companion to its owner, Pepper has arms that reach up to offer an embrace or a high-five. Far be it from us to cast aspersions regarding national stereotypes, but the bizarre invention has unsurprisingly found favour amongst 7,000 pre-orderers in Japan- a country that already goes out of its way to come up with strange ways for people to feel comfort (see also: cat cafes). Put simply, the happy-go-lucky guy wants to be your friend, in case you don’t have enough human and animal ones already.
A little more logical is Buddy, another robot, designed in France, which has several key functions. It can recognise faces, make video calls, detect fire, and sense intruders, whilst also being called Buddy, sporting a smiley expression, and clearly belonging to the ‘come with no harm’ school of thought (or indeed arm). Again, there has been a lot of early interest from potential customers, but in our opinion all that is besides the point.
What matters is that, like sci-fi, our non-fiction reality seems to increasingly be blurring the lines between human emotion and automated or engineered reactions to those emotions. But with creations such as the aforementioned robots, what emotions do people think are set to be the most prominent? Should the smart money be on us heading towards a future defined by lack of human companionship?
The social media age, albeit an old-hack term, increasingly dictates that we spend more and more time alone, even when we’re in the company of friends and companions. How many people can honestly say they didn’t take a few minutes out of Christmas Day to interact online, despite being in the same room as real humans, some of whom we probably don’t see that much? Not many, we’d wager. Quite what this means, and what our point really is considering Smoking Gun is home to social experts and advocates everything from Facebook to WhatsApp, is unclear, but in the true spirit of the first week back at work, there’s food for thought here.