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Technologies & Robotics : the revolution of human augmentation

Pascal Malotti
Global Retail Strategy Lead & Strategy Director at Valtech France

December 28, 2016

2016 is almost over. It is time for an initial assessment of the technological innovations that have followed one another throughout the year. An underlying trend is taking root for the long term: the growing influence of robotic technology in our daily lives.

These technologies are used in a wide range of applications. From the assistant robot, worthy of the last Star Wars spin-off, to instant messaging, the use of which shot up this year, people often come into contact with the various forms of artificial intelligence. Some go even further, implanting microchips in the human body to make daily life easier. While the topic offers food for futuristic fantasies, some apps can represent real progress. Others, however, raise serious ethical issues. To address the latter, we need to step back in a world that often dives head first into a constant pursuit of innovation. Ethical issues must be the corollary of robotic technology development, halfway between human progress and a choice of civilization.

A Christmas feast prepared by articulated robotic arms

Such is the extraordinary challenge that London-based company Moley Robotics has taken on. The aim: to transfer the cooking skills of a Master Chef to a robot so that it can prepare a meal without any human intervention. People could then let technology take care of this chore and spend more time enjoying leisure activities and life. For the time being, while many gladly commit to the task of cooking for their family, others who would rather get rid of this chore will tend to be sceptical as to the system’s viability. And yet, both of the automated kitchen’s articulated arms are the result of one year of development in partnership with the prestigious Stanford University, located in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Thanks to 20 motors and 129 sensors the 2 articulated arms can cook and coordinate their movements above a kitchen counter specially designed by the company. The company called on several professional Chefs to take part in this project. They made several dishes while wearing data gloves for motion detection. The robot’s 3D cameras analysed the movements and converted them into several algorithms that now allow the automated kitchen to accurately reproduce them. Moley Robotics intends to make more than 2,000 recipes available to its clients for selection via a smartphone app. People will be able to remotely activate the robot so that their dinner is ready by the time they come home. The product is expected to hit the market in 2017. So what about a 2017 Christmas feast prepared for you while you sit and enjoy the evening?

Finding the perfect gift thanks to instant messaging

There is one thing on which all marketing professionals agree: 2016 saw the advent of chatbots in the way we get information and buy products. In a record time, these virtual smart assistants have invaded our favourite apps to discuss our desires and needs, analyse them and offer suitable services or products. In this new phase of digital and virtual transformation, brands firmly intend to reach a wide audience. There are 3 billion monthly users of instant messaging that can use chatbots. In the beauty industry, Sephora, a brand of the LVMH group, seeks to help its customers find the ideal gift during the holiday season. While the service offers a timely solution to impatient and last-minute buyers, the aim is also to win over a wider audience with the accuracy of the suggestions. Accessible via Facebook Messenger, Beauty Bot thus asks for the age, gender and first name of the person getting the gift. We can then let the robot advisor know about the person’s style (posh, fashionista, bohemian…) and the type of products we’d like (perfume, body lotion, etc.). The chatbot then gives us its first suggestions. The selection can be narrowed down by specifying a budget. As soon as the gift is selected, the geolocation system provides a list of all the stores in the user’s area where the product is in stock. Average time needed: roughly twenty seconds. And the service is available 24/7. This certainly is an opportunity for Sephora to increase its web-to-store traffic. The brand intends to develop the service on other occasions such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.

Human augmentation

What if people no longer needed even a remote control key to open their cars? And what if doctors could remotely monitor their patients’ blood sugar levels while they stayed at home? These applications are under development and use a particular technology: microchip implants in the human body. These implants would give everyone access to a Sci-Fi world hitherto only accessible in movie theatres. At the Epicenter, a modern building of the business district in Stockholm, the digital world is merging with the real world. The implantation of RFID chips was offered to the employees working in this building to help them handle their daily tasks. In practice, this means no more swipe cards or passwords. Employees who have agreed to the implantation go directly through the walk-through scanners and the photocopier reacts to their presence when they come near it. The same principle applies at the company canteen where they simply use their fingers to pay for an order. The RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips are no bigger than a grain of rice and are implanted in the hand in just a few seconds. The pain involved is similar to the pain experienced when getting a shot. This technology has the advantage of not being dependent on a power source, unlike our connected objects, which can suffer a power failure. As for the frequency detection perimeter of each chip, it is of no more than a few metres per RFID reader. In practice, this would prevent the carrier’s every move from being tracked. It is this issue that triggers the hottest debates. From an ethical point of view, aren’t we witnessing the development of a new way of placing people under constant surveillance? Bordering on a choice of civilization, these new applications force us to set strict legal frameworks and to ensure an optimum security level. Imagine what would happen if the system was hacked into. The hackers would then be able to retrieve a range of personal information and remotely control our access to information and places. And we would be living the dark side of a Sci-Fi movie.

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