Mannequin robot, will you be my Valentine?
Client: Takashimaya Tokyo
Dr Ishiguro’s mission? To seduce shoppers at Takashimaya department store in Tokyo for a Valentine’s Day sale using his mannequin daughter, who has 60 facial expressions, four cyclical emotional states and a highly unrealistic yawn.
Despite the fact that Geminoid’s tagline drips with innuendo – “Android Falls in Love? She Is Waiting for You” – our lovely Geminoid is not, in fact, a pleasurebot designed to cater to every geek’s fantasy.
In fact, forget all about robot sexual enablement vehicles, robot bodyguards or robot detectives helping us solve robot-dog-related neighbourhood crimes. The future of robots appears to be – surprise surprise – selling us shit.
As with all things robot-related, of course, the hype far outstrips the reality. (I’m looking at you, soccer-playing Asimo.) Interactive humanoid marketing isn’t really about awkward multimillion-dollar robots wearing the latest McQueen seasons hitting on you in nightclubs, let alone ones sitting in department store windows looking bored.
No, the biggest advances in this area are already being made in what is known as “behavioural targeting”.
Basically, behavioural targeting ads are Minority Report made real.
Except, with behavioural targeting, the ads won’t just talk to you as you pass. They’ll star you.
In this respect, they’ll be more like Take This Lollilop, the viral 2-minute horror clip by Jason Zada in which a stalker obsessed with images of you drives to your house. Take This Lollipop used the developer tool Facebook Connect to play on your worst fears of Facebook privacy intrusion – and with 12m likes on Facebook, it appears to have knocked on the right bedroom window.
Advertisers are working on exactly the same type of thing. The “behavioural” part of “behavioural targeting” comes from recognition software that can supposedly identify your mood and pitch ads accordingly. The BBC claims the Japanese technology company NEC has already developed a system that can work out a person’s gender, estimate their age, and display ads tailored to that demographic. (Although, if this software is anywhere near as good as Dr Ishiguro at understanding the subtleties of human emotion, we probably shouldn’t worry.)
This emphasis on tailoring ads to your emotional state has tempted people to call them “gladverts”. We’ve got a much better name: sadverts. You heard it here first.
Writing in Slate, Evan Selinger and Shaun Foster of the Rochester Institute of Technology say most adults will find all this behavioural-ad malarkey exceedingly disturbing. There will, they predict, be opt-out campaigns akin to the current “do not call” lists, and laws preventing companies such as Facebook from using peoples’ avatars in ads without their consent.
However, Selinger and Foster point, young people almost certainly won’t care. If pushed, teenagers will probably argue that it makes no difference if a company uses their avatar in a 3D ad. They’ll still be free to choose not to buy Cheerios even if their face is on the box. This is not good, the scientists write:
People regularly underestimate how easily their behavior can be modified. To the delight of ad executives, adults mistakenly believe that their preferences can be shaped only by powerful but regulated techniques, like subliminal advertising. Contrary to this folk psychology, current behavioral marketing trends are promising precisely because viewers powerfully respond to “relevancy” in targeted and contextual ads.
In other words, we’re all robots. And now they’re offering us robots and asking us to fall in love. Aren’t we all basically looking for targeted relevancy in a partner?
In which case, Geminoid, all is full of love. You just ain’t receiving. All is full of love. Your phone is off the hook. All is full of love. Your doors are all shut. All is full of love.
Happy Valentine’s Day.