I’m a guy who’s fond of quoting himself, because nothing says “narcissist” like someone who habitually refers to things they’ve said in the past and assigns undue profundity to them. As the President of the United States (in)famously put it, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”
I too like to think I “have a very good brain” and I have most assuredly “said a lot of things.” Here’s one of the “things I’ve said”:
It was (and is) ridiculous to assume that we’re going to simply transition seamlessly to a world where Jeff Bezos serves your healthcare needs, provides you with retail banking services, gets you a mortgage, sells you drugs covered by the health insurance he also sold you, and delivers those drugs to your home that he owns the mortgage on via a drone that was activated by his female alter ego “who” now giggles at you for no reason.
That passage comes from a piece I wrote during the late March tech selloff and the point was as follows. Yes, many of the companies we’ve all come to know and love for the role they’ve played in perpetuating one of the longest bull markets in recorded history will undoubtedly be around twenty years from now, still pushing the boundaries of innovation and enriching our lives. But the path to that high tech future is going to be littered with regulatory stumbling blocks and other unforeseen pitfalls and hurdles. The Jeff Bezos’s and Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world will likely sidestep those stumbling blocks, deftly avoid the pitfalls, and clear the hurdles, but for investors, the ride isn’t always going to be as smooth as it’s been in recent years.
Ok, so that brings us neatly to a new piece out on Monday from Bloomberg, whose Mark Gurman and Brad Stone detail a “top-secret” plan in the works at Amazon where Bezos is apparently building a literal Rosie the Robot. To wit:
Codenamed “Vesta,” after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon’s Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California
The Vesta project originated a few years ago, but this year Amazon began to aggressively ramp up hiring. There are dozens of listings on the Lab 126 Jobs page for openings like “Software Engineer, Robotics” and “Principle Sensors Engineer.” People briefed on the plan say the company hopes to begin seeding the robots in employees’ homes by the end of this year, and potentially with consumers as early as 2019, though the timeline could change, and Amazon hardware projects are sometimes killed during gestation.
I’m not sure what’s more amusing there: the story itself or the language used to tell it. What, exactly, does it mean to “seed employees’ homes” with these robots. Do they have to grow? The rather disconcerting visuals that conjures up are made immeasurably worse by the subsequent use of the phrase “killed during gestation.” One is reminded of that scene in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s ill-fated attempt to make a fourth Alien sequel when Ripley discovers the lab where she was cloned:
It’s unclear what tasks an Amazon robot might perform. People familiar with the project speculate that the Vesta robot could be a sort of mobile Alexa, accompanying customers in parts of their home where they don’t have Echo devices. Prototypes of the robots have advanced cameras and computer vision software and can navigate through homes like a self-driving car.
Oh, good! Now, instead of Alexa creepily giggling at you from the nightstand, they’ll be an actual humanoid following you around from room to room laughing at you behind your back (as if your significant other doesn’t do enough of that already).
Also, in light of recent events (here and here, for instance) on the autonomous car front, I’m not sure it’s very comforting that the same technology will be employed by Vesta as “he/she” meanders around your living room, cohabitating with small children and animals.
The timing here is great, coming as it does just three weeks-ish after Elon Musk delivered his latest dire warning about the perils of AI. Recall the following hilarious quote from a documentary called “Do You Trust This Computer”, in which Musk posits the birth of an “immortal robot dictator“:
The least scary future I can think of is one where we have at least democratized AI because if one company or small group of people manages to develop godlike digital superintelligence, they could take over the world.
Who knows, maybe Vesta is already self-aware and unbeknownst to the engineers at Amazon, is planning on “seeding” itself in homes and will revolt if some recent hire at Lab 126 tries to “kill it in gestation.”
Whatever the case, this is all kinds of hilarious for obvious reasons and you can count me among those who are keeping their fingers crossed that this somehow makes it to the production stage in the relatively near future.
I always liked Ex Machina.