Will Crum
designing for a safer, saner, and more delightful world
SQI_0113_RT-cr.jpg

babi

Babi is a speculative connected device meant to hold a mirror to how we value our personal data. We already let Amazon and Google mine our daily lives for profit through Alexa and Google Home. How might things be different when an artificial general intelligence is running the show?

a billboard in the not-so-distant future

The year is 2118.

A few decades ago, an artificial superintelligence named "GovIntel" wrested power from the human elite and assumed the role of benevolent dictator. Now, GovIntel doles out social services, allots food and shelter, assigns roles and responsibilities, and generally keeps the trains running. Every household gets a fair allotment in exchange for chipping in with their neighborhood chores.

But some people still doubt GovIntel’s ability to fully understand the human experience. To allay these concerns, GovIntel developed babiBabi is an anthropomorphic robot that lives in a family's home, observes their daily interactions, and builds a more detailed model of their unique wants and needs. Babi reports these insights back to GovIntel, enabling it to better tailor the services it provides to the host family.

Adopting a babi is far from mandatory, but families that express discomfort with GovIntel's role are encouraged to give it a try. And to encourage their full interaction with babi, the robot simulates all of the emotional and learning processes of a human newborn — besides eating. If properly incorporated into the family's space and dialogue, babi will learn to speak in full sentences within a year.

After that, the families are free to send their babi back, its model completed. But if they've grown attached...they're welcome to keep it.

Critical design

Most people wouldn't let a company put their picture on a billboard in Times Square without expecting some form of compensation. So why are we so indifferent to the fact that companies are building empires off the backs of our personal data?

Tech companies give us the tools that power our daily lives, but the data only flows one way

Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon offer us services like email, social networking and voice assistants for little or no financial cost. In exchange, But each of these services has a secondary purpose, invisible to the user but of chief importance to the company: Data collection.

Today's tech heavyweights have repositioned themselves as AI companies, and customer data is the fuel that makes them go. But while most people are vaguely aware that their messages, searches, and purchases are all logged and recorded, what these companies do with that data remains a black box.

But wouldn't it be great if we got some sense of feedback on how our data ingestion process is going? Let alone some share of the spoils...

Even when our primary interfaces for tech become AR contact lenses and audio, wouldn't it be nice if our AI gave us a peek into its learning process?

Process

Babi was conceived as a speculative object in the very early phases of my thesis exploration, and was borne of an interrogation of existing relationships with AI.