Robots like C3PO taught us that robots ought to have instant access to all kinds of information, and now that dream is one step closer to reality thanks to the programmers at The Corpora.
All you have to do is say, “Qbo, I have a question,” prompting Qbo to access Wikipedia. Then you just tell it what you’re looking for and it’ll search for it, find the appropriate wiki entry, and begin reading it. If it hasn’t heard a word before, you can always spell it out, and the new word will be added to the cloud for other Qbos to learn. Of course, Qbo is not immune to the problems associated with speech recognition and text-to-speech synthesis, but these can always be improved later.
I know what you’re thinking: it would be faster to just look it up yourself on one of your many devices. And that’s not likely to change, even if voice recognition and speech synthesis gets dramatically better. Because when that time comes, it’ll be just another app on your phone and every other device; you won’t need a robot at all.
This a major problem for small personal assistant-type robots. Nobody has found that special killer app that can’t be done on other devices. For the time being such platforms can exist for research, or as curiosities (the AIBO comes to mind) but in order to break into the mainstream they’ll have to provide some form of concrete value, like the Roomba. And, it seems to me, competing with the sheer practicality of smart phones seems like a waste of time.