Your Robot Future Might Be Here: The $599 ASUS Zenbo Robot

asus-zenboWell, it was really only a matter of time before someone turned the new category that is the Amazon Echo (and being copied by Alphabet/Google in the form of “Google Home”, and Apple also has a particularly creepy version coming out) into a rolling robot with a screen for a face. Surprisingly, the company to do so…is ASUS.

Known for their quality entries in the PC and smartphone space (I’m a particular fan of the ASUS Zenfone ZOOM), ASUS is now delivering what effectively looks like a BB-8 with a tablet on top for a head. Calling it the “Zenbo”–and impressively only costing $599–not much as far as battery life and technical specifications are known, but there is a video displaying what it can do. Check it out…

Okay, a couple of points on this. First off, I think they dropped the ball on reaching out to the actual people that would buy this thing: The single person tech enthusiast. Marketing this to older demographics and families was a fail out of the gate. You could say that the relationshipless tech enthusiast is going to buy it anyways, but what really sells new technologies is its perceived “cool factor”, and folks, in case you didn’t already USknow this, there’s nothing “cool” in conventional eyes about being old or dealing with family matters, both of which the Zenbo is displayed helping with here. Keep in mind, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being old or having a family, I’m just saying that in marketing, concentrating on those demographics doesn’t exactly sell a product, since families and older people generally don’t have disposable income for a robot, even one that only costs $599.

My second point here is this, though: All of these problems that the Zenbo supposedly solved don’t have to actually be problems just by social choices you make. Zenbo solves problems with your annoying husband? Don’t get married. As a woman you’re tired of being stuck in the kitchen cooking? Well for fuck’s sake, don’t have a family! Seriously. If the future is going to be so fucking conventional, what a boring ass future that ASUS is bringing us, folks.

Another concern is the “relationship” that the child in this video is making with the Zenbo. If ASUS is planning on releasing Zenbos in a similar “buy a new one every year” as they do with their PC’s and Zenfones (which is the only way manufacturers make money off of products at these low margins), then you’re going to be sending kids some very strange messages over the connection: Mainly that relationships and connections are ephemeral and never last longer than the annual release of a new product. Granted, families don’t have to buy the Zenbo 2, 3, and 4 as they come out, but then its debatable how long Zenbos will actually technically last, and also there is the conventional peer pressure of kids needing to always have the latest and greatest or their not “cool in school”. This Zenbo is a social headache waiting to happen, and it’s a solution to problems that don’t have to exist in the first place with the right choices made in life.

Honestly, this video pisses me off. I get it that home robots need to start somewhere, but the Zenbo is delivering bullshit here. Show me a future I want to live in, and then I’ll be excited about getting your robot that ushers it in. But the future that ASUS showed off is so depressing it makes me want to run off to Greenland (actually, I want to do that anyways).

Again, not sure when this thing will be coming out, and battery life is going to be a huge question as far as the viability of the Zenbo, and there’s the very real possibility that this thing will be seen as creepy more so than cute. And as my problem with everything “Internet of Things” (and yes, this is absolutely an IoT device on wheels), it’s only a matter of time before the Zenbo is hacked or starts rolling around and takes video and pictures, or listens in, at moments that may be “inopportune”. It’s connected to the “Cloud” after all, which means it’s connected to centralized powers.

That’s always the thing that rubs me the wrong way about so much of these technologies that look like they came out of science fiction. In books, movies, and TV shows, these things and the data they collect were always either stored totally locally, on a private network, or were completely under your command, and not beholden to Alphabet/Google or governments (but I repeat myself…ahem…corporatism).

I’m not against a robot future, but ASUS’ Zenbo is a sign of social dystopia, and not a future that Asimov would be proud of.

Carpe lucem!