A version of this post was published in Quartz Magazine on September 25th, 2014. Click here to see the article.
To listen to Hollywood's Sci-Fi machine, AI (artificial intelligence) is going to change the world. Unfortunately, it's a bleak tale - the earth is either an all-out dystopia or a fragile fantasy of happiness that is shattered when the heroic protagonist realizes that after all, it's rotten to the core. Whether you're a battery suspended in gel to feed the machines in the Matrix, or a rebel fighting a last ditch battle against the T800 Terminators, it's not looking very good for you, feeble human!!
This week's NYT has an article by Jayson Greene reviewing just this generally dismal vision. He references Arthur C. Clark's essay, "The Hazards of Prophecy" where he posits that it's the failure of imagination and the failure of nerve that results in such fatalistic views. We fail to envision a hopeful future, because we imagine the worst. Beware the Terminator, Hal, NS-54s and Preston.... Of course, they're all about power and control. The assumption seems to be that AI will drive to our baser instincts.
Star Wars had a different take, though. Apart from C3PO and R2D2, there's Chroon-Tan B.
In 2005, Chroon-Tan B made an appearance in the public consciousness as the midwife robot in Star Wars III; Revenge of the Sith. She, because she definitely sounded like a she, crooned softly as she gently cradled the newborn twins Leia and Luke, as their mother was unceremoniously and traumatically despatched to film heaven. An odd little gentle interlude before the gory scenes that followed as dad Anakin was despatched limb by limb to his Darth future....
Imagine my surprise earlier this week when I found BabyBe on AngelList. Chroon-Tan was here, and maybe was better for not having taken the momma out of the picture. Instead, it was clearly a device created by engineers who understood the role of mothers in the lives of preemie children.
Take a look here for what BabyBe does - their tag line is Soft Robotics for neonatal healthcare.