We’ve been led to believe that the first things robots will do when they gain sentience is rise up and enslave humanity. But what if it’s worse? What if they become backseat drivers? That’s the first thing that comes to mind when hearing about MIT’s Affective Intelligent Driving Agent (AIDA), developed with Volkswagen. AIDA is an in-car personal robot that will help drivers, sort of like an anthropomorphized smart GPS system. AIDA will quickly learn its driver’s habits and usual routes (to work, to the store, for example) or when the car needs maintenance. Embedded in the dashboard, the robot is different from a GPS system in its humanized behaviors, giving affirmations such as winks and smiles – developing what its designers call a symbiotic relationship between the two.

“In developing AIDA we asked ourselves how we could design a system that would offer the same kind of guidance as an informed and friendly companion,” said MIT professor Carlo Ratti.

AIDA incorporates information about the cities and roads drivers drive in addition to knowledge of its driver’s habits. Its primary importance could be in creating better drivers, as it gives feedback designed to encourage more energy-efficient or safer driving.

“With the ubiquity of sensors and mobile computers, information about our surroundings is ever abundant. AIDA embodies a new effort to make sense of these great amounts of data, harnessing our personal electronic devices as tools for behavioral support,” Ratti said.

Any tool that makes for better drivers is definitely needed, but AIDA’s design – like a decapitated Wall-E – begs the important question: why do robot designers go overboard on the cuteness? AIDA is vaguely creepy in a Johnny-5-meets-Chucky kind of way, especially when it’s sad:

It's creepy-cute design decisions like this that ensure a proiri that robots will be up to no good when they do finally become self-aware.

John Connor help us all.

By Mark Alvarez