Tony Robbins, Sergey Brin Become Robots – The Telepresence Revolution

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Tony Robbins Goes Telepresence

This past weekend while attending an Xprize fundraiser in San Francisco I saw self-help guru Tony Robbins and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, but not in the traditional sense.  Although neither of them could physically attend the event, both Tony and Sergey were strutting the room and chatting it up like the rest of us by controlling Willow Garage’s awesome Texai telepresence robots.  If you are like me, you have been somewhat skeptical of the whole telepresence robot idea.  I mean, once we get over the novelty of the idea and the coolness factor of it all, do telepresence robots really have a place in our society beyond a niche role?

After witnessing Sergey and Tony in telepresence grandeur, consider me converted into a believer in the telepresence revolution.  People at the event, myself included, were immediately attracted to the robots and loved talking to them.  During the course of the evening, I spoke to individuals from Argentina, Washington DC, and Canada – all via telepresence.  Telepresence robots are going to be an awesome addition to our technology fueled lives.  Catch a glimpse of my conversation with Tony below:

Humans are social creatures, and the telepresence robots at the Xprize event latched on to this human quality in a way that surprised me.  If Tony Robbins had simply video conferenced into the Xprize event via a hanging TV the experience simply would not have been the same.  He wouldn’t have been able to traverse the room to find (or evade!) various individuals.  He would not have been able to turn away when he was done talking to you, nor would he be able to see someone or something that was “behind” him in the room.

At this point the Texai robot does not even have arms or hands to allow for a more robust human social interaction.  Once they have appendages, I could see the future for these robots becoming even more compelling.

One of the fascinating aspects of telepresence robots is that they can become different people throughout the evening.  There were three Texai robots at the Xprize event, and over the course of the evening each robot was embodied by several different interesting individuals from all over the world.  Enjoy a video of Sergey Brin in full telepresence form below:

In some ways attending an event via telepresence robot might even be superior to physically attending.  No need to dress up in fancy clothes!  Safely hidden within your robot, now you can attend black tie events in the comfort of your boxers.  Need to put the kids to sleep or answer the front door of your house while “attending” an event thousands of miles away?  No problem!  With the conditions setup just right, you could even attend multiple events simultaneously by taking over telepresence robots that you have reserved ahead of time.  Will telepresence robots be available “for rent” at parties, conferences, and other events in the future?  Sounds like an interesting business idea!

Maybe I am just caught up in the euphoria of the moment and telepresence robots aren’t all they are cracked up to be.  They can’t traverse stairs very well, for example, and attending an event by telepresence certainly is not the same as truly being there.  Still, I can’t get away from the fact that telepresence robots are pretty neat.  I could see them becoming a regular part of human social gatherings over the next decade.  If so, chances are I will be inside one of them.

Discussion — 20 Responses

  • Orr Shomroni May 19, 2010 on 9:50 am

    We are going down a slope of alienation from other people. As convenient as telepresence, teleconferencing and other such techniques are, they are bringing humanity to a complete alienation in social terms. Chatting, emails and messages through social networks are great way to keep in touch with people around the globe, but when you are talking to your neighbour next door via MSN, something went terribly wrong.
    As weird as it may sound, South Park made an interesting mention of this problem. In one episode, the Internet in the US is malfunctioning, and everyone flees to Silicon Valley, where there is still some Internet. Stan’s sister Shelly enjoys the Internet to chat with her boyfriend from another state, but when she meets him in Silicon Valley, the meeting is awkward and they barely speak to each other, simply saying they will talk to each other on the web.
    What kind of world are we heading into, when face-to-face social communication will be replaced by robots? It might be convenient at time, but all sense of true social interaction will be lost.

    • Magnus Orr Shomroni June 4, 2010 on 6:53 am

      Orr Shomroni: You are missing the point and I’m afraid you are making the same thinking mistake a lot of people do. It is NOT “either or” but “both and”. We are getting more social then ever and we meet in real flesh just as we did before but we have added a dimension that is new. It has always been like this since the day we started to use language (hey.. what was wrong with just hand and body signals…?). This is not going to stop and the problem is just in your own perception.

  • Orr Shomroni May 19, 2010 on 5:50 am

    We are going down a slope of alienation from other people. As convenient as telepresence, teleconferencing and other such techniques are, they are bringing humanity to a complete alienation in social terms. Chatting, emails and messages through social networks are great way to keep in touch with people around the globe, but when you are talking to your neighbour next door via MSN, something went terribly wrong.
    As weird as it may sound, South Park made an interesting mention of this problem. In one episode, the Internet in the US is malfunctioning, and everyone flees to Silicon Valley, where there is still some Internet. Stan’s sister Shelly enjoys the Internet to chat with her boyfriend from another state, but when she meets him in Silicon Valley, the meeting is awkward and they barely speak to each other, simply saying they will talk to each other on the web.
    What kind of world are we heading into, when face-to-face social communication will be replaced by robots? It might be convenient at time, but all sense of true social interaction will be lost.

    • Magnus Orr Shomroni June 4, 2010 on 2:53 am

      Orr Shomroni: You are missing the point and I’m afraid you are making the same thinking mistake a lot of people do. It is NOT “either or” but “both and”. We are getting more social then ever and we meet in real flesh just as we did before but we have added a dimension that is new. It has always been like this since the day we started to use language (hey.. what was wrong with just hand and body signals…?). This is not going to stop and the problem is just in your own perception.

  • Daniel Memenode May 19, 2010 on 10:23 am

    Orr, you could say we’re alienating each other, or you could say we are simply socializing in a different way rather than ceasing to socialize altogether.

    I think it reflects what transhumanists have been saying would happen. We are becoming the machines. At this point it feels awkward to some that we’re not communicating with each other “in the flesh”, but at some point some might find it weird that we’re prioritizing “in the flesh” communication so much. Why does it matter that the body sitting in front of you is a biological representation of you instead of an avatar in a virtual world or a robot? It almost sounds like a pre-conceived prejudice that could be dealt away with as these technologies mature more and more and as one is able to further immerse themselves in the communicative experience.

  • Daniel Memenode May 19, 2010 on 6:23 am

    Orr, you could say we’re alienating each other, or you could say we are simply socializing in a different way rather than ceasing to socialize altogether.

    I think it reflects what transhumanists have been saying would happen. We are becoming the machines. At this point it feels awkward to some that we’re not communicating with each other “in the flesh”, but at some point some might find it weird that we’re prioritizing “in the flesh” communication so much. Why does it matter that the body sitting in front of you is a biological representation of you instead of an avatar in a virtual world or a robot? It almost sounds like a pre-conceived prejudice that could be dealt away with as these technologies mature more and more and as one is able to further immerse themselves in the communicative experience.

  • ewqr May 19, 2010 on 1:12 pm

    It’s green! Think of the fuel/oil that is wasted on your need to be face to face with someone! If people would just learn to not feel awkard with webcams + audio we could all save so much fuel & time. haha

  • ewqr May 19, 2010 on 9:12 am

    It’s green! Think of the fuel/oil that is wasted on your need to be face to face with someone! If people would just learn to not feel awkard with webcams + audio we could all save so much fuel & time. haha

  • frank ly May 19, 2010 on 1:23 pm

    “… over the course of the evening each robot was embodied by several different interesting individuals …”

    No. Several different individuals were embodied by each robot.

  • frank ly May 19, 2010 on 9:23 am

    “… over the course of the evening each robot was embodied by several different interesting individuals …”

    No. Several different individuals were embodied by each robot.

  • BeckyMinx May 20, 2010 on 5:04 pm

    Pretty awesome. I could see these being widespread in the future

  • BeckyMinx May 20, 2010 on 1:04 pm

    Pretty awesome. I could see these being widespread in the future

  • Jason Markow May 20, 2010 on 6:07 pm

    I think this is incredible. I think that looking at the alienation of select individuals just focusing on the negative impact of such technology.

    As these ‘roll-out’, (as I am sure they will in some form or another) suddenly the physical space we occupy is both nothing… and everything.

    This is far more than a glorified communication platform. We are beginning to interact with the real world as we do online. What I mean is this: On the web we “go to” sites without actually going anywhere, now (or soon at least) we can “go to” actual physical places, interact, and experience them without having to go anywhere.

    I argue that the benefits (green, safety, and the ability to connect with more people on a deeper level than ever before) far out weigh any potential negative impact.

    Those who choose to alienate themselves are going to do it with whatever platform/vehicle they can. Providing a tool like the telepresence (ha! just had to add that word to the dictionary) robot will bring far more people together than it separates.

  • TechDubDoob May 20, 2010 on 6:07 pm

    It’s certainly cool and interesting. However, it’ll be even more interesting to see how practical something like this will be as time goes on.

  • Jason Markow May 20, 2010 on 2:07 pm

    I think this is incredible. I think that looking at the alienation of select individuals just focusing on the negative impact of such technology.

    As these ‘roll-out’, (as I am sure they will in some form or another) suddenly the physical space we occupy is both nothing… and everything.

    This is far more than a glorified communication platform. We are beginning to interact with the real world as we do online. What I mean is this: On the web we “go to” sites without actually going anywhere, now (or soon at least) we can “go to” actual physical places, interact, and experience them without having to go anywhere.

    I argue that the benefits (green, safety, and the ability to connect with more people on a deeper level than ever before) far out weigh any potential negative impact.

    Those who choose to alienate themselves are going to do it with whatever platform/vehicle they can. Providing a tool like the telepresence (ha! just had to add that word to the dictionary) robot will bring far more people together than it separates.

  • TechDubDoob May 20, 2010 on 2:07 pm

    It’s certainly cool and interesting. However, it’ll be even more interesting to see how practical something like this will be as time goes on.

  • Trencher93 May 20, 2010 on 7:09 pm

    Wasn’t Robbins doing this in the 90s?! I remember him doing something with theaters so he could transmit nonsense without being present.

  • Trencher93 May 20, 2010 on 3:09 pm

    Wasn’t Robbins doing this in the 90s?! I remember him doing something with theaters so he could transmit nonsense without being present.

  • Nitish Kannan August 1, 2010 on 9:33 pm

    I think this just enhances communication just as the cell phone or landline phones do as does internet, email and social networks which are just email with a page and bunch of pictures, This telepresence has been around for decades now only is it getting cheap enough for widespread use because of cheap bandwith and computational equipment.

  • Nitish Kannan August 1, 2010 on 5:33 pm

    I think this just enhances communication just as the cell phone or landline phones do as does internet, email and social networks which are just email with a page and bunch of pictures, This telepresence has been around for decades now only is it getting cheap enough for widespread use because of cheap bandwith and computational equipment.