Google patented building robots with personalities

Surely we can pull off something more human than that.
Surely we can pull off something more human than that.
Image: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili
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Whether or not we are headed toward a robot revolution, Google wants us to get comfortable with the next generation of robots. In a new patent awarded to the company today, Google outlines ways to download and customize the personality of a robot or computer.

Google’s patent details a cloud-based system where a personality could be downloaded to a robot, in the same way one might download an app. A robot could hold multiple personalities for interacting with different people—with specific idiosyncrasies for each user—rather like a family computer having different accounts for each family member. The patent says that the personality could replicate the robot’s owner, “a deceased loved one,” or “a celebrity,” taking the virtual girlfriend idea to its logical, depressing conclusion. As the patent says:

The robot personality may also be modifiable within a base personality construct (i.e., a default-persona) to provide states or moods representing transitory conditions of happiness, fear, surprise, perplexion (e.g., the Woody Allen robot), thoughtfulness, derision (e.g., the Rodney Dangerfield robot), and so forth.

It’s unclear why anyone would choose to have a Rodney Dangerfield robot follow them around everywhere.

Robots that mimic humans are still very much in their infancy—they haven’t really mastered stairs, let alone the art of wisecracking. But for those interested in cashing in on the technology’s future, making robots more relatable seems sensible. (In that case, choosing more user-friendly celebrities than Woody Allen and Dangerfield might have been a wiser move.)

While there’s no guarantee that Google will turn this patent into a product (the company’s robotics arm is busy toiling with dog-shaped robots at present), people have long envisioned a future with human-like robots. An example: the character Bender from the animated show Futurama, which also once featured a robot version of Lucy Liu.

Google was unavailable to comment on whether the company is actively pursuing this patent.