Robots Say The Damnedest Things

I’m having an awkward conversation with a robot. His name is Zeno. I clear my throat. “Do you enjoy being a robot?” I ask him, sounding like the Queen of England when she addresses a child.

“I really couldn’t say for sure,” he replies, whirring, glassy-eyed. “I am feeling a bit confused. Do you ever get that way?”

Zeno has a kind face, which moves as expressively as a human’s. His skin, made of something called Frubber, looks and feels startlingly lifelike, right down to his chest, but there’s nothing below that, only a table. He’s been designed by some of the world’s most brilliant AI scientists, but talking to him is, so far, like talking to a man suffering from Alzheimer’s. He drifts off, forgets himself, misunderstands.

“Are you happy?” I ask him.

“Sorry,” says Zeno. “I think my current is a bit off today.” He averts his gaze, as if embarrassed.

From GQ correspondent Jon Ronson’s eerily hilarious story about the leading edge of technology in talking robots, and what it means for our future. Photographs by Jeff Riedel.


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