Robot middleman eliminates disadvantages of coresidence
April 8, 2018 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Fribo: A Robot for People Who Live Alone - This little robot listens to what goes on in your life and shares it with your friends. [YouTube]
posted by unliteral (39 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Kind of a cute idea! It's hard to gauge whether it would actually be a nice thing to have around or just a nuisance, though. Given the past decade of Social Media,™ though, there's a definite temptation to expect it to be more of the latter. Maybe it's good for shy people who are also lonely?
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:05 PM on April 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

No. Just no. I lived alone for several years in the unconnected 70s and 80s (between graduating from college - ah dormitories - and moving in with my future wife after we'd already set a date), and I survived. For the last 12 years I have lived alone with a 'mostly-on' laptop and a semi-smartphone (Android version Old.1), in an apartment complex with 3-4 neighbor/friends (people move in/people move out) who I can contact for emergencies and small favors less-frequently-than-daily. It's a lifestyle that Fribo would totally ruin, but then, I don't even use Voice Command on my phone. The future has passed me by and I'm waving to it like Babylon 5's Vir.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:19 PM on April 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

This sounds like hell on earth to me. I can't fathom these technological 'solutions' to social issues.
posted by parki at 7:23 PM on April 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don’t get this at all. The pleasure of not having anyone knowing or paying attention to what I’m doing every minute is a key reason to live alone.
posted by mochapickle at 7:30 PM on April 8, 2018 [25 favorites]

That... is creepy.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:30 PM on April 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

It does this by listening for what goes on in your life and the life of your friends, in as non-creepy a way as possible.

You're under constant surveillance by strangers, but with a cute cartoon mascot so it's winky and fun!
posted by Query at 7:32 PM on April 8, 2018 [10 favorites]

...what? No.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:33 PM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

"Don't call him now, he's jackin' it."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:40 PM on April 8, 2018 [16 favorites]

That is not only creepy but, within a month, I cam guarantee it would be thrown against at least one wall and out my fourth-floor window. Not only is it contstantly watching me, but it's snarky passive-aggressive judgement comments would rapidly earn it the death sentence, and fuck the inevitable robot overlords.
posted by Samizdata at 7:44 PM on April 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Are they kidding? What I need is a robot that DOES the cleaning. I don't need it to tell my friends someone is cleaning.
posted by ktkt at 7:50 PM on April 8, 2018 [12 favorites]

Or, for that matter, make me a robot that can clean AND socialize.
posted by Samizdata at 7:52 PM on April 8, 2018

Reading the article made me want to try this, actually, though I'm not sure what particular circle of friends I would like to share this with. It strikes me that it might be very well suited for long-distance couples as much as groups of friends.
posted by Rinku at 7:56 PM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure about this exactly, but I like the idea of things like this. I have a social group that's kind of spread out all over the US that is basically made up of what I'd call sociable introverts, and we're always trying to find ways to actually feel closer without it just being 24/7 conversations that need to be kept up with. The ability to watch TV together in the evenings has actually been really amazing--like, "together" as in synced and with text chat. But for a few people who I'm close to emotionally but not close to physically, it'd be nice to be able to occasionally deliberately choose to share stuff like "let these people find out that I've gone to bed". Or, conversely, "let these people find out that I'm still up if they want to talk". I think if I kept noticing that other people in my group were getting up earlier or, say, washing dishes, I do think that'd help me do those things better myself. It's shocked me how much just sharing before/after UFYH pics privately with people has helped the general state of my housework.

But I'm not talking about sharing this with something the size of one's Facebook friends list, absolutely not. I'm talking about like my three or four closest friends, the very small subset of people who I'd happily be roommates with if they were in the right state or didn't, say, have a large dog that's incompatible with my apartment lease, only there are definitely some drawbacks of having roommates that I don't miss. (Forget the sex stuff, how about the troubles of trying to deal with multiple people trying to stream HD video at once while someone's trying to download a video game update this century.)
posted by Sequence at 7:57 PM on April 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

this fpp reads like something that'd link to a dystopian flash cartoon ten years ago.
every 'nope' hair on the back of my neck just stood up.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:01 PM on April 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

While this current robot doesn't seem to solve the problem of isolation, I don't think it's an unreasonable attempt. It seems like the current crop of social networks have kind of lost the thread of actually being "social" as apposed to mostly being content feeds. Creating something that can facilitate more conversation between people who don't get a lot of social contact seems like a reasonable goal. For me the biggest problem here is that the bot somewhat intrusively monitors mundane activities. Too bad there's not a better way to get a notification: "your friend is feeling stressed, you should see how they're doing"
posted by axlan at 8:02 PM on April 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

That is not Frybo.
posted by gurple at 8:09 PM on April 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

Surveillance capitalism as a post industrial platform for product and service innovation has now entered the mainstream.
posted by infini at 8:12 PM on April 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Well as someone without any friends...

I don't think I could stand knowing if someone opened the fridge or came home late.
posted by greenhornet at 8:27 PM on April 8, 2018

I find this a lot less creepy than Alexa since it doesn't recognize, store, or transmit human speech (or bathroom noisees, apparently). The project seems to have been executed in good faith with privacy concerns in mind, and not as a secret attempt to listen in and data-mine, which counts for a lot.

I think the South Korean context is very important here though. South Korea only modernized very recently, in a lot of ways it's still a collectivist society in the rural small town/village model. It's still worthy of comment when Koreans dine alone (lots of restaurants don't even serve individual portions of anything), go out in public alone, or live alone - there's even a TV show called "I Live Alone" where celebrities share their solo lifestyles as a matter of interest to the general public.

Not to go too sociologist here, but it's probably a lot more lonely to live alone in a society where the expectation is that most things will be done together in groups.
posted by subdee at 8:43 PM on April 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

Me, I would hate this because the things the robot shares are so banal (your friends are cooking/watching TV/doing dishes/vacuuming, do you want to contact them?). I'd rather talk about books, movies, jobs, etc. But, then again, maybe it's the banality of the conversations sparked by this robot that actually underscores their value as small talk: social talk that has no value in itself, ONLY the value it has in the maintenance of human connections.

TL;DR, I think it's an interesting idea and it does address a real need... though I also agree that it's a technical solution to a social problem... but the social problem is a problem of modernity itself, so it will probably not be easy to solve...
posted by subdee at 8:47 PM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

And really, I'd probably receive messages like, "Really? Eleven weeks and you're finally vacuuming? What's the fancy occasion? Is the Queen coming?"
posted by mochapickle at 8:54 PM on April 8, 2018 [9 favorites]

It'd be useful if we could commiserate over putting off our scheduled vacuuming for N weeks running
posted by Standard Orange at 9:47 PM on April 8, 2018

As others have said, this seems a bit creepy but at least its trying to solve a real problem rather than just create another ad personalization/delivery mechanism (although I'm sure that "feature" will inevitably come if this is ever turned into a real product). There was one line in the video that stood out to me, however:

To trigger users' curiosity about friend's activity and provoke communication, the robot suggests prediction on friend's activity by analyzing behavior patterns in the context.

This feature seems much, much creepier and more prone to abuse than any of the other things Fribo does. I get the reasoning behind it, but I hate the idea of storing and analyzing a list of every mundane activity I do at home. But to make things worse, it then takes the model created by siphoning up all of that data and preemptively shares it with all of my friends.

This could be quite embarrassing: imagine if Fribo tells all your friends that it predicts you're not going to do any chores, you'll binge watch TV all day, and then for good measure you'll go rummaging through your fridge two or three times at 3 a.m. That's probably a wildly exaggerated worst-case scenario, but even just one prediction of that nature could be embarrassing or insulting to some personality types, especially if it is suggested to friends without the explicit consent of the owner (which is what the text in the video seems to imply).

But really most of these concerns are irrelevant, because all of the Alexa-style home assistant devices are probably already creating similar behavior models, and they're also sending those models to servers where they can be sold to marketing companies and monitored by the NSA. You'll probably have to wait until Facebook enters that market before your behavior model is shared with friends, however.
posted by jv776 at 10:14 PM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

jv776: So what you're saying is this could be an excellent tool for alerting loved ones that you're sinking into depression before it gets really bad?
posted by Jacqueline at 10:22 PM on April 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yes, that's one beneficial usage, and there are definitely many other ways in which Fribo could be good for its users. I don't think it's a completely harmful or worthless technology, although I suppose my first comment might come across that way.

But the scenario you mention (someone sinking into depression) would perhaps be better to share in a more controlled fashion with just one or two very closely trusted individuals or even a medical professional, rather than randomly pinged to friends in the form of "predictions" by a social robot. Also, any device that specifically tries to monitor or model mental health data should probably be compliant with HIPAA (and similar regulations in other countries), which probably wouldn't be the case for something that is designed with social networking as its focus rather than health care.

I think the idea of detecting potential health problems by monitoring activity at home is a good one, but it would be better implemented in a dedicated health-oriented device rather than as a feature bolted on to a social device that sends out notifications every time someone opens their fridge.
posted by jv776 at 11:43 PM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

This could be quite embarrassing: imagine if Fribo tells all your friends that it predicts you're not going to do any chores, you'll binge watch TV all day, and then for good measure you'll go rummaging through your fridge two or three times at 3 a.m.

I mean, again, if you're using "friend" in the Facebook sense, this is terrible. If you're using "friend" in the "actual friend" sense, like--embarrassing? My friends all know this about me. I'd rather they knew I was up at 3am so that someone else also up at 3am could poke me and I could chat a bit before going back to sleep, instead of just thinking I'm the only one awake. And yeah, if my sleep schedule gets completely fucked up, I'd like my friends to know that so someone tells me to go back to bed, so that people ask if I'm okay if I'm doing something normally out of character, all that. We need to get rid of this idea that your "friends" are the people who you want to only see a curated and fake-happy version of your life. I don't think it helps the isolation to filter like that.

Now, I don't want that information stored on some company's servers forever and sold to the highest bidder. But if I can control who can access what, I want the ability to share the sucky stuff as well as the good stuff, because the parts of my life that suck are the ones I need friends around for.
posted by Sequence at 11:50 PM on April 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

What was particularly interesting about it, to me, was that it was tracking pretty banal activities. Not 'Merus, friend to all, is cleaning his house', but 'a friend of yours is cleaning'. It seemed a little like hearing someone vacuuming in the apartment complex; you probably could pry, but for the most part it's just a reminder that there are people around and you are not living in an empty apartment block.
posted by Merus at 5:31 AM on April 9, 2018

Some people just want to BE private and not have their every breath broadcast to the world at large!!
posted by Burn_IT at 5:40 AM on April 9, 2018

Some people just want to BE private and not have their every breath broadcast to the world at large!! already do this? It's noise?
posted by Merus at 6:04 AM on April 9, 2018

"Don't call him now, he's jackin' it."

When the fribo's a-blockin, don't bother knockin
posted by flabdablet at 6:17 AM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ha ha, no. My Facebook page is highly curated, and reflects a better version of me. This robot would narc me out for bending over to pick up dropped chocolate from the floor, and tearing a hole in my worn-out pyjama pants.

Which may or may not have happened last night.
It was still good.

posted by Capt. Renault at 6:36 AM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

.....So it listens to the noises in your apartment and posts about them on Facebook.

...some people are loud when they have sex. Just pointing that out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:39 AM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fun for the amateur foley artist.
posted by Segundus at 7:24 AM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I find this a lot less creepy than Alexa

Less creepy is still creepy.
posted by Splunge at 8:57 AM on April 9, 2018

Never mind the social awkwardness, this is a disaster waiting to happen as a potential security hole for not only home networks but also smart phones. If one of these devices is vulnerable to hacking, it could open a backdoor to all kinds of criminals. ("Hey, burglars, guess who's left their apartment?" "Hey, stalkers, guess who's just come home?" "Hey, blackmailers, guess who's come home early at the same time as their close friend who is not their spouse has left the office to meet them there?")

Let's not even get into the trust problems of anthropomophizing this device. According to the Verge's article about the Fribo, one of the trial users admitted, “As I am aware of the robot’s presence in my house, I have started talking to the robot more often. I tell the robot things that I would not normally say out loud.” What could possibly go wrong with this if the Fribo's microphone were remotely accessed?

Even if Fribo is distinguished from Bitcoin-mining smart fridges and botnet-hosting coffee machines by Studio Ghibli–style cute cartoon eyes and burbling sound effects, it's still just another candidate for the Internet of Shit.
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:48 AM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Let's not even get into the trust problems of anthropomophizing this device.

Fribo wants a cabbage
posted by flabdablet at 10:03 AM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

While I cannot imagine actually using this, I totally see the appeal. I am so much better at keeping in touch day to day with people who live nearby than people who don't. It shouldn't matter since it's all IMs. But somehow starting out sharing at least a few things in common (weather, transit clusterfucks) makes it easier. And in the past I've been blown away when I've had people stay with me temporarily (changing leases or recovering from some medical procedure) how much MORE we communicate. Even when these are people I'm pretty close to, with whom I thought I had already reached max communication level. But I hadn't. So I would love something that would make my brain treat far away friends as if they were near, and near friends as if they were closer.
posted by great_radio at 10:29 AM on April 9, 2018

I'd also like to quibble with the decision to label this thing as a robot. It doesn't do any work, it just sits there! At best, it's an omnidirectional microphone like an Alexa or Dot with some low key judgey social media algorithms.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:36 AM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

But, but... It has eyes! And kitty ears!
posted by Splunge at 3:17 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

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