Suwappu: The Cute Toys That Spell The Future Of Human/Machine Interaction

These little block figurines interact with you via augmented reality. It’s a step toward computers that we can interact with in a way that’s comfortable for us and easy for them to understand.

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As our world becomes integrated by smarter and smarter machines,
interacting with them is going to become more and more important. Finding
common perceptual grounds–visual, audible, or haptic grammars that
humans find compelling and computers find richly accessible to
processing and manipulating–is one of the hard problems of robotics and
artificial intelligence.

a prototype augmented-reality toy system consisting of blocky little
figurines who live in their own virtual environments, is one attempt at solving this problem. A project of
design shop Dentsu London, Suwappu explore a new approach to augmented
reality play, in which an app “reads” the figurines’ simple faces and
color patterns much the way we do.


Whether they ultimately reach the market or
not (as the video shows, the project remains design fiction at this point),
Dentsu’s Suwappu offer a gesture in the direction of human-robot interoperability. Endearing and
compelling, the figures’ faces and color schemes signal character to us;
at the same time, the computers find them susceptible to processing. Suwappu suggest that humans and machines
already share a visual vocabulary, a kind of machine-human graphical

and animators already have the “uncanny valley,” that threshold of
verisimilitude where nearly real androids and animated characters
unsettle. Perhaps there’s an analogous boundary zone–call it an
“isthmus of intelligibility”–where machines edge ever closer to seeing
things as we see them. With the common perceptual grammar of humans and
machines–the lingua franca of the uncanny valley–growing richer, we’re
inching out across that isthmus already.


About the author

Author of Library: an Unquiet History; cofounder of; writer about history, language, technology, and culture for a host of publications in print and online. His short story collection, The Sovereignties of Invention, will appear this Fall under the Red Lemondade imprint.


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