Culture

You Are Not Emotionally Ready To Watch This Robot Tell Its Owners About Its Own Impending Death

Jibo, who could dance, sing and snap photos, has had his servers shut down. Now, he's saying goodbye.

Jibo the robot has been shut down

Our modern, technocentric world is full of surprises, not all of them entirely pleasant. For example: I bet you didn’t realise when you woke up today that soon you’d be watching a ‘social robot’ named Jibo chirpily telling its owners that he’s about to be shut down.

When Jibo launched, back in 2015, he was meant to be the start of a new wave in tech. A small, squat little automated device, Jibo was basically Amazon’s Alexa, but with a body and a flat, unassuming face that called to mind Marvin of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

He could say funny things if you gave him the right prompts, he could play your favourite music (and do a little dance), and he could answer banal questions that it’s just as easy to Google — what’s the weather like, read me my emails, etc.

For that reason, the idea that he was going to totally transform day-to-day human life was always a bit of a stretch. He was a curio, basically, who followed a rote system of prompts that made him appear much smarter than he actually was.

But none of that should dampen the blow of what you’re about to watch, which is a video of Jibo announcing to his owner that, due to poor sales, his servers are about to shut down, and he will basically be shuffling off the mortal coil he only tentatively had a grasp on and into non-existence.

“Maybe someday when robots are way more advanced than today, and everyone has them in their homes, you can tell yours that I said hello,” Jibo says towards the video’s end, before abruptly changing tact from his heartbreaking message and doing a small jig.

If you don’t know quite how to feel about said video, join the club. The robot does not, it should be stressed, meet any of the conditions that we have for self-consciousness. He has no intentional states, meaning he can’t produce a mental image of himself, which is the base requirement we have for declaring a creature to be a moral agent. So really, it should be as sad to watch Jibo get shut down as it is to see a website delete most of its content.

And yet this video is different, precisely because it is deliberately designed to hint towards an era in which robots with intentional states become the norm. If you’re a materialist, meaning that you believe that the only thing in the world is physical stuff — i.e. that your thoughts, memory and personality are nothing more than electrical wiring in a brain — then you must concede that a robot who could think, feel, love and write poetry is a distinct possibility.

Which prompts the further question: When that robot does arrive, what will be able to do with it? A robot that can love sounds like a boom for the sex doll industry. But ‘love’ isn’t ‘love’ if you’ve been programmed to feel those emotions. So any machine truly capable of falling for another will have to be able to fall out of love with that person too. And who would buy a robot that might break their heart? More than that, would it be ethical to buy a robot and keep it in servitude? What separates that from other forms of bondage?

When people talk with fear about our automated future, their fears tend to swirl around ideas that robots will rise up and kill us. But even if they don’t — even if they’re as harmless as Jibo — they will force us to re-examine everything. Robots will alter our understanding of what it means to love, how we should treat all sentient creatures, including animals, and the ethics of the way that we live our lives.

That video of Jibo announcing his human-induced demise? That’s just the beginning.