The idea of ‘robots’ used to sound futuristic, even alien. They’ve come a far cry since the days of the tin man-esque C3PO or dystopian Will Smith movies. However, in 2017, robots are now a huge part of our cultural consciousness, seeping into all aspects of youth culture, from smartphone software to the characters in Hollywood blockbusters. With Reuters claiming that four out of ten young people believe machines will be able to do their jobs within a decade, The Youth Lab explores what has caused the cultural obsession with robots and what is their impact on young people today?
Welcome to the Matrix
Robots used to be clunky, awkward, metal things. But one part of the progressions in modern robotics, is their evolution in human-realism intellectually and physically. In fact, the Uncanny Valley is the concept that as robots become more human-like, people find them to be more appealing than their mechanical alternatives. However, when robots reach a stage where they are close to, but not quite, human, people are downright repulsed by them, as illustrated by a terrifying period of CGI films during the late 00s. But in 2017, human-likeness may be fast approaching a point where it is no longer repulsive to us. Check out the advances in Hanson’s unbelievable Sophia robot or this CGI drawing of a Japanese school girl.
The good, the bad, and the bots
Similarly, there is a drive for robots to ‘be more human’ in user experience and be ‘better than human’ in their capabilities. Marc Zuckerberg is fast becoming the real world Tony Stark (better known as Ironman) with his home AI system, Jarvis, pushing the boundaries of ‘smart homes’. With Chatbots quickly becoming a worthy sparring partner for conversation, who says young people won’t have robot pals in the near future? Or foes for that matter. Just look at Microsoft’s Tay.ai and her explosively offensive trial on Twitter. And, with automation posing a risk to many workers’ jobs, robots could be the biggest threat to youth employment in recent memory.
i-Phone, therefore I am
Young people are continuing to interact with smarter and smarter technology on a daily basis. Smartphones are already integrating A.I. technology, but on a small scale compared to the future plans for this area. Huawei’s CEO Richard Yu calls this next phase in phone evolution the, “intelligent phone”. Young people may well use future phones to interact not just with each other, but with the personality of the phone itself. But the Uncanny Valley also applies when technology tries to simulate human affairs too closely. They go from smart to creepy, freaking out the end user, meaning that there may be some backlash with radical advancements in smartphone A.I.
The cynical cyborgs
With such a heavy presence in all areas of their lives, it’s unsurprising that robots are surfacing across cultural moments for young people. From 2015 Blockbuster Ex-Machina, HBO’s hard hitting Westworldand upcoming release this month starring Scarlett Johansson Ghost in the Shell. Robots are always the focus as they advance beyond assisting humans, to encroaching on either being human or threatening humanity itself.
It always focuses on the blending of robot and human. Why? Because young people today are both fascinated and terrified by their ever-reliant relationships with robots. In fact, a 2016 study found that a quarter of young people (aged 18-34) in the UK said that they would happily date a robot - provided their android beau looked just like a real-life human being.
Brand Take Outs
Robots now play a real role in the lives of young people, we need to get our minds around the idea that robots are just part and parcel of life in 2017. So, what can brands learn from this?
Make it cool, not creepy: Young people love technology; they love its capabilities BUT it also scares them. Personal space and privacy is the number one concern of young people today. Don’t be intrusive or too personalised in your services or targeting, because you won’t intrigue young audiences; you’ll freak them out. Give them the opportunity to do cool stuff, but make it a choice not an invasion to avoid falling into Uncanny Valley.