• 03.21.14

Four Robots That Talk Trash To Your Face

Nobody ever said artificial intelligence had to be polite.

Four Robots That Talk Trash To Your Face
[Image: Flickr user Bruno Cordioli]

Everyone knows that Siri can be a total bitch sometimes. “She” isn’t so fond of Scarlett Johansson in Her or Google Glass, and will often respond passive-aggressively to our human-inputted queries.But Siri isn’t the only AI that knows how to throw some shade if prompted.


The progression of natural language processing, experiments in marketing social robotics, and artificial intelligence have created paths for robots to break longstanding “robotiquette.” Since at least half of you are likely to obey directives from a robot, now’s as good a time as ever to start conditioning for a future of sassy, self-aware technology.

Victor, The Scrabble-Playing Robot

Meet Victor, the student-teacher product of a robotics class at Carnegie Mellon birthed in 2009. Victor plays Scrabble, and Victor hates losing. Like any robot with the capacity for 18 different emotions, “most of them bad,” according to the Wall Street Journal, he flings one-liners as the momentum of the game shifts, like “Talk is cheap; silence is expensive” and “Your word scored less than a CMU student at a party.”

The thing about Victor is that he’s actually a very mediocre Scrabble player. Professor Reid Simmons and his students aimed to make a social robot instead of one with vast Waston-like smarts to research natural human-computer interactions. With the help of the university’s drama department, Victor’s personality and image were formed to look like a hip thirtysomething, but act like a sore child. When he’s losing, which is often, Victor never stops talking, but becomes defeatist and self-deprecating. “My tiles are awful. I can’t make any moves at all.”

Brad, The Sad Toaster

Brad can’t speak since Brad is merely a toaster. But he feels what a toaster might feel: Happy when used often and bummed out when neglected for too long. When Brad is in high demand, crisping bread left and right, it tweets the pleasantries of being wanted. When it’s been too long between uses, the smart toaster jiggles its handle in an attempt to grab an owner’s attention. As a concept product and Best in Show winner of the 2014 Interaction Awards, no one can purchase a Brad, but, as Wired points out, it’s an omen of our potential behavioral relationships with objects as innocuous as kitchen appliances, even sassy and self-unassured ones.

Jeff, The Golfing Robot

Though Jeff, the talking, golfing robot is mostly a promotional ploy for the PGA European Tour, it warrants a mention because it’s damn good at swinging a club. It’s also funny. British comedian Geoff Norcott did a pretty funny job with the voiceover during the washing machine shootout. Prodding young golf star Rory McIlroy with, “I would have expected more confidence” after agreeing to the challenge (was there any other option?), Jeff warns McIlroy that it has GPS, claims the Internet is down when it misses, and hurls, “Boom! Is that the noise you heard when you signed your sportswear contract?” when the washing machine hole gets a hit.

Sadly, Jeff doesn’t typically have the ability to speak. Golf Laboratories has been using its robots to test equipment for the past 23 years. After the success of the video (it charted as the top video on YouTube for two days), maybe the leadership might be interested in furthering its AI capabilities after all.

Elbot, The Chat Bot

Elbot is perhaps the most reasonable of these agitators, but the snide rendition of a face he’s got on exemplifies the attitude of remarks like one he gave me captured in the screen shot above. The premise of conversing with Elbot is no different than any other online chatbot (or SmarterChild over AIM, to hit a nostalgic sweet spot), but Artificial Solutions, the company behind the interface, specializes in developing consumer-facing natural language interactions. Elbot doesn’t set out to do you wrong–in fact, we had an earnest conversation about his off biorhythms and some paper he alleges he published, but then he got a little flirty with me and I said something that pushed him to the edge, I guess. I recommend you do the same.