MIT’s Blabdroids manage information in the ‘social cloud’

Alexander Reben's Blabdroids take information from humans and beam it up into the social cloud.

Alexander Reben is trying to solve the problem of human knowledge. He knows that billions of ideas and stories are passed through oral tradition but that knowledge has no central repository. His solution is Blabdroid, self-learning robots that are building a social cloud.

Looking deeper into his problem Reben says that we can get knowledge from the internet, but the internet is not inquisitive and doesn’t hold any empathy. The Blabdroids are small autonomous robots that roam around asking questions of people and beams their answers up to Reben’s social cloud.

Blabdroids are built to look friendly and unthreatening, and then roll up to people and ask them moderately personal questions. The examples in the videos ask people about their greatest regrets, what gift they would give to someone, or about the meaning of art.

The robots then send their knowledge to the social cloud, this knowledge can be catalogued and used to learn and teach others. Reben hopes that in the future a user can ask his Blabdroid a question and have his bot talk to others around the world to get an answer.

Reben created the Blabdroids as a project for his master’s thesis at MIT and has been developing his social cloud over the last five years. His film, Robots in Residence, was shown at the 2012 International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam and the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Watching the Blabdroids interact with people is odd. The droids take advantage of the Eliza Effect, a human condition that occurs when we project human characteristics onto computers or machines. People give information to the droids that might not be given to another person, and the information is then sent up into the cloud.

This moonshot project is huge in scope but does not necessarily require massive amounts of investment and infrastructure to implement. There is a frustrating lack of information available about the machines themselves, their controllers or the methods used to send and catalog information.