A Plan for a Robot Who Can Impersonate Your Mom

Google has a patent for artificial intelligence with a personality — and that patent might not be a good idea

Erik Tham/Corbis

There are robots that vacuum, robots that drive cross country and robots that can flash a smile and offer up your missed messages when you walk in the door at the end of the day. Now, Google owns a patent for the concept of a robot with full-on personalities. Any kind of personality you want!

According to the patent, the robot could impersonate celebs:

The robot personality may also be modifiable within a base personality construct (i.e., a default-persona) to provide states or moods representing transitory conditions of happiness, fear, surprise, perplexion (e.g., the Woody Allen robot), thoughtfulness, derision (e.g., the Rodney Dangerfield robot), and so forth. These moods can again be triggered by cues or circumstances detected by the robot, or elicited on command.

But the personalities would not have to be pre-programmed—the robot could connect to your computer and phone and whip up that information into an impersonation:

In response to a "Be mom" command, "mom" may not be known to the robot. The robot processor can then search user devices for information about "mom"...the robot may be able to determine "mom's" voice from recordings, and further how the user interacts with "mom" from text messages and recordings. A photograph of "mom" may result in a display for the monitor.

And you might not even have to tell the robot what to do. Say the robot notices that you get sad when it rains:

The user-profile may be for the robot to then perform uplifting tunes from "Annie," to evoke positive reinforcement responses from the user when it rains. Using the information in the user-profile, the robotmay adopt a butler persona (e.g., Bruce Wayne's Alfred), and nicely offer an umbrella to the user as the user is leaving for work, or based on what the user is wearing, the robot may offer suggestions to the user based on the weather.

Sounds very very neat but kind of...vague. Right? MIT robotic ethics and intellectual property researcher Kate Darling thinks that's a problem. She explains at IEEE Spectrum:

When companies like Google lock down this type of early conceptual idea, it prevents others from working on the actual technical solutions. And at this stage in the space, we need more than one company innovating. Competition will drive better implementations of personalized robots.

One thing is clear: robot smarts are on the rise. Let's just hope we can keep telling them to be nice.

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