“It was about the eyes really. Right from the beginning I realized, no I KNEW, it was the answer.”
Thomas Alva Watson is addressing the crowded conference hall at the Vegas Convention Center.
“I formed this company eighteen years ago. It was a very well funded startup and I had three of the best people in the field working with me. Mike came from I-Robot, Jack from Microsoft, and George from Darpa. We developed and constructed two prototypes that were more advanced than any on the market in 2038. Even the big guys like Honda and I-Robot were behind us in the menu of functionality we were able to incorporate into a domestic mobile unit.
The keys though, were the eyes. Functionality was not what got us to the top of the market. It is the eyes that make the sale and the eyes that keep our customers loyal. Without the eyes we would have been at best a Chrysler in a world of Fords and Toyotas. Instead we’ve become bigger than Exxon Mobile, Wal-Mart, and Toyota combined. We are today the largest industrial operation of the 21st century and growing. Thirty years ago the market for robotics was mostly industrial and was barely more than $6 billon. Today, nearly 1 of 3 homes in the developed world has one in some form. Over 40 million in the United States alone and we hold over 50% market share.
So, back to the eyes, from the beginning we put most of our resources into the eyes. The industrial guys never got it, really. They…”
I was in the second row watching him make his presentation, but I could not take my eyes off the slender robot at his side. And then it looked at me. I was transfixed, so unexpected, so focused on me. It looked away. I tried to look like I was reading the program. I looked up again and its head turned a touch and it looked straight into my eyes, looked down, and then looked away, head tilted back. It was like I had been turned to stone. Her, its sculpted eyes were the most beautiful things I had ever seen, could ever have imagined, liquid deep pools of luminescent blue-green.
“Our newest eye modules are interfaced with AI components that read body language of not only the owner, but anyone else in the room at a distance, today, of fifty feet. We expect to extend that to 150 feet by the end of this year.
Based on facial expressions and body language the robot will decide to engage or ignore the presence of the person or persons. Again, those assessments are made independent of eye contact. I like to say, ’eyes behind their heads’, but pay a heavy price whenever I say it.” Smirking, he continues. “But yes, we continue to improve non-verbal communication as well as...”
This time I looked up, and she was already looking just past me, and then slowly refocused on me, and held the eye contact, dead still. I tried not to blink. What was she thinking?
“Subtle changes in pupil dilation, often an indication of attraction, are now able to be interpreted, and combined with other recent advances have led to a 22% increase in perceived compatibly across all demographic groups. These companion bot features are now being retrofitted into all of our product lines and we expect increased levels of customer satisfaction as a result.
Psycho-demographic studies indicate women react….”
I couldn’t have one of these in the house. My wife would kill me. I looked up again, right into her big perfect eyes and she turned away quickly. On the other hand, the Honda bot was getting dated. My wife was already talking about the new features on the XKL 420. For another $1500 we could upgrade to the model on the stage.
I was excited. The XKL 520 we bought arrived a week ago. It was the show demo, the same unit I’d seen at the Vegas conference. My pulse was racing just a bit as she stepped into the house and looked at me. Thing is, the eyes seemed much smaller and looked right past me and focused on my wife, who fell in love with it instantly. You’d think they were old college roommates. They were inseparable. Every now and then I’d see those eyes open wide and inviting, but never at me. The most I ever got was a quick glance and a formal response to a question.