“A robot in my mind” - A review of MOTHR the AI conscience
By Ben Neal
Working in tech I’m lucky enough, now and then, to get pre-release products to trial and today was my lucky day. Today I had the chance to test out the new AI system MOTHR which if you’ve seen the videos has been touted as an “Artificially Intelligent Connected Conscience”.
So what is it? Well, one of the main components of this system is set of Augmented Reality glasses. They look like regular reading glasses but looking through them you can see they overlay what you are looking at with super-imposed text and images. They can even change what you see by mixing real life with computer generated visual effects. How cool is that!? And of course you can do all the usual stuff like take photos and video of what you’re looking at. Pretty amazing hey?
Well that’s far from all you can do - the glasses are also smart - they monitor your eye movements (so they know what you’re looking at, and for how long) and it monitors your facial expressions (so it can judge if you’re happy, sad, disgusted, bored etc). The kit includes a small pair of ear buds, and interestingly, nose buds - both of which can block, enhance or replace your senses to a degree. The nose buds are great as they block out plenty of bad smells and are filtered to allow you to breathe fresher air! I recommend taking them out when you update the firmware though as I actually couldn’t breathe through my nose at all while this was happening.
But the really exciting thing about this kit is an artificial software conscience called MOTHR which makes suggestions and gives advice to you throughout the day. Often this is by highlighting objects you’re looking at in the glasses - sometimes it’s practical things, like highlighting your jacket with a notice about today’s poor weather, but the glasses also have facial recognition and can identify people and display their public data (Facebook profile, Twitter statuses etc) and other data about them (like their age, car they drive, school they went to, their address, siblings, occupation, qualifications - it goes on!) as you’re looking at them.
MOTHR can do this because it’s networked and has access to the internet, plus the company’s own library, and from this it provides assistance by profiling you day and night and offers up what it thinks will be beneficial to you.
Now, if you keep the ear buds in at night, they can send you to sleep with drowsy music and wake you up at an optimum time with an appropriate alarm. I tried it and fell asleep in no time, but I was woken up about 3.15am annoying by an alert notifying me that a house a few streets away was being broken into but that the police had been notified.
I should also say - it’s possible to interact with MOTHR. She actually speaks to you via the ear buds from time to time. And she has voice recognition so you can speak back to her. Obviously I chose a soft female voice in the end, but Homer Simpson was fun for a while.
Apart from speaking it’s possible to interact using menus you can see in the glasses. So when you’re shown a menu, you can look at things to position the cursor and then blink to click.
This whole system is pretty discreet too so it’s easy to use it without others knowing. You can talk directly to MOTHR but actually it’s easy to respond to her suggestions with a “Yes” by simply giving a prolonged blink. That way you can stay silent. By using the “blink for yes” system you can keep your interactions with MOTHR between you and her secret. The lenses can be clear or tinted and I wear glasses anyway so I look totally normal to most people.
So to test the kit I did what any mischievous tech guy would do - I kept it secret and went to stalk and surprise my girlfriend with my new super-power! MOTHR also arranged for me to meet Alan - a colleague of mine who has also been testing the system today - so we could meet up and compare notes.
I liked the idea of getting a bus as it seemed like an opportunity to get up close to the public and see what this system could do. Working like a Sat Nav MOTHR guided me to the bus stop, the bus arrived, and I got on. Immediately MOTHR warned me of bacteria covering the poles and handrails on the bus which I’ll be honest kind of grossed me out, so I stuck my hands in my pockets and I took a seat near the back. Amazingly MOTHR automatically blocked out all smells using the nose buds and the bus suddenly smelled fresh and slightly minty…
As I sat down I got a notification I’d been paid which was good and as I travelled I was able to see my progress via a GPS map in the corner of my vision. At one point MOTHR notified me as I was watching the passing traffic that the driver of the car next to us was uninsured, she had taken a photo and this had been reported. The bus pulled up at a stop on the high street and MOTHR alerted me that a shop we were passing moments ago had been reported as shoplifted. I watched the people getting on the bus hoping to spot the thief!
I looked at the people sitting around me, and there was an Eastern European guy speaking on the phone. Now MOTHR must have noticed I was paying him some attention because an English language translation of what he was saying started to play in my ear buds.
MOTHR identified the expression of an older lady in front of me as “discomfort” and I amused myself watching her body heat using a thermal camera built into the glasses. I guess she was ill. Some people around me we’re marked as “of interest” as MOTHR had
identified them and said we shared some similarities with my music tastes or interests. For some people MOTHR blurred out their faces all together but I’m not sure if that was intentional or just a bug.
At one point MOTHR asked me “Are you worried about crime?”, I guess I’d been woken in the night about the robbery, and she offered up the Danger Zone app. I confirmed the installation using the “blink for yes” system. The app installed almost instantly and highlighted an area around a young man who was tagged as a potential threat. The idea, I guess, must be that so long as you are outside of arm’s reach of threatening people, you are safe from thieves, pickpockets and gropers. I suspected he was the shoplifter from earlier. As I travelled further down the street sites of assaults, robberies, car crashes and rapes were highlighted too. Some were old, some new and it was amazing to see clusters of them in hot spot areas along the streets and outside pubs. As you can imagine it was all a bit worrying, so I uninstalled the app.
Now, earlier in the week I’d “borrowed” my girlfriend’s phone and given MOTHR access to her social media and location data. Naughty me, but now I could see I was getting close to her as MOTHR can display a GPS location on a map in the corner of your vision. I could also see a trail of where she’d been all day, that it had taken her 48 minutes to leave the house from waking up, the route she’d driven to work, and how she’d been seated for over 3 hours before going out for lunch. At this point she was clearly walking around town shopping. MOTHR helpfully told me to get off at the next stop, highlighted it as we approached, rang the bell for me, and even gave me a countdown to disembarkation.
As I got off the bus, I set the glasses to tinted mode to try and rest my aching eyes knowing that this had the added bonus that my girlfriend wouldn’t be able to see them. I tracked her down in a supermarket buying lunch, but before I approached I glanced over a few shelves. MOTHR identified food I’d run out of at home, and highlighted the freshest items based (I assume) on their sell by date. Stupidly I had previously installed a behaviour rectifying diet app Inpulse which buzzed painfully and loudly in my ear every time I even looked at a chocolate bar or cake. It sure made me less likely to buy one.
I had planned on surprising my girlfriend, but to be honest I got distracted watching an animated advert which made melons and bananas fly around my head (I can only assume to encourage me to buy them) and she saw me first. She tapped me on the shoulder as I was watching a melon explode over my head and asked me “Are there flies in here?”.
I let her talk for a bit but MOTHR must have detected I wasn’t looking at or listening to her, quit the fruit advert, and opened the Beautyfymy app which certainly helped me focus on her face because, to my delight, it improved and tanned her skin, plumped up her lips and coloured her hair. I can tell you - she looked amazing - I think I’d probably leave that app on day and night if I could. However Beautifymy suddenly stopped - I think MOTHR must have heard my girlfriend saying something like “you’re not listening to me!” and quit the app which was disappointing, but actually good timing as I had to leave anyway to go and meet Alan.
So I went to a coffee shop, as arranged previously by the system, and when I arrived, there was hot coffee pre-ordered at my designated and pre-assigned table which was highlighted for me visually as I walked through the door. MOTHR quietly told me I’d been ordered something like a Double Blended Half-Soy Nonfat Ristretto (or something like that) as she knew “I liked surprises and had good taste”. The payment had already been taken from my account, and I suspect it was expensive. Anyway at this point the nose buds re-opened to allow me to smell the coffee and some soft music played in my ear buds. As I sat there, a drink was brought over to my table for Alan who moments later arrived. I knew he was about to walk in - I even had a countdown.
Now, Alan was also wearing the system which was only evident by the fact he was wearing glasses and I know he doesn’t normally. I assumed he also had the ear buds and nose buds in. We both looked around at the cafe and commented on it’s beautiful decor and great lighting before we realised that we were actually both seeing it differently through our own glasses which had changed the lighting and added or removed objects based on our individual interests and preferred style.
I asked him how his day had been. He said MOTHR had helped him play golf and had suggested the best approaches, advised on slopes and wind conditions and even suggested improvements on his stance and swing. He’d also been able to see where the ball would land and roll as it was hit into the air. Apparently it was a good game but he’d found it sort of boring after a while being hand-held through the match and he hadn’t actually performed that much better than usual despite being told exactly how to be perfect. He said he’d also installed an app called What Would Jesus Do? that was giving him constant guidance but I got the impression he’d spent most of the day following orders from MOTHR like a kind of data zombie.
For a while we just sat there not talking, skimming through apps in our glasses, staring into space. I think we both forgot to drink our coffees until MOTHR reminded us both they were getting cold.