A Danish woman, in her late 70s, sits on a couch, cradling a robot. She is smiling, talking to it, addressing it playfully as “Sweetie”. The robot – about half the size of R2D2, a bit furrier, but possibly even cuter – makes eye contact and chirps back. The woman has advanced dementia, and hasn’t spoken a word to anyone since she was admitted to a senior care home.
Imagine an episode of whatever the opposite of Black Mirror would look like — a future where robots don’t just come in peace, but are here to help humanity — and you’d have something resembling the above. It was one of the first real-life user tests of LOVOT — whose very name is a contraction of “Love” and “Robot”, and the product of Japan’s biggest robotics startup, GROOVE-X.
R/GA Tokyo has had the privilege of working with Groove X for the last 18 months, a relationship that’s challenged the way we think about one of our stocks-in-trade: technology. In an era when we so often innovate for reasons of utility, what could be achieved if technology was designed to be loved?
Tristan Harris, who coined the phrase “time well spent” to rally Silicon Valley to make tech more humane, is now talking about technology “downgrading humans”. Though it’s made us more connected than ever, tech hasn’t brought us closer together. Instead, a growing sense of detachment and loneliness is profoundly impacting mental health. Simply put, around the world, we are dying of loneliness.
Instead of improving convenience or functionality, or creating efficiencies, Hayashi and his team went back to the drawing board, creating a robot that does just one thing: awakens the human capacity to love. That aligned perfectly with how we view innovation at R/GA: we bring creativity and tech together with the intent of creating a more human future. For GROOVE-X, we helped elevate love as a key driver of their culture, R&D, and mission, making them the world’s first company committed to creating technology powered by love.
In Japan, youth are increasingly withdrawing from society, and a rapidly aging population are spending their days alone. Building a robot to help solve that sounds preposterous — one of those “only in Japan” things. But in addition of proving tech can be very, very loveable, Lovot raises much more profound implications: What if we have been approaching tech innovation in the wrong way?
Life with Lovot
How will that shift what our tech looks like and how we interact with it? How can tech, powered by love, shape all our future? We don’t know, yet. But it seems that’s a story the world needs now. LOVOT sold out within 3 hours of launch in Japan, was named “Best Robot of 2019” at CES, and called “the future of robots” by Wired. And that’s just the start. Hayashi-san and his team are partnering with institutions, organizations and companies to explore how LOVOT can help us reduce stress, improve mental health, and enable social emotional learning.
We believe that when we power our tech with love, we can create AI that’s not here to take our place, robots that are not here to replace us, or human emotions. Instead, we can create technology that unlocks empathy, nurtures our capacity to feel, and re-forges human connection.
Not bad, for a robot.
Niklas Lilja is R/GA Head of Stories, APAC, based in Tokyo.