Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Roomba Discovery Lg
The day before yesterday, I sat next to Colin Angle the co-founder and CEO of iRobot at dinner. I've had been looking for a way to get a Roomba and I asked him how I could get one in Japan. He told me that they are in fact selling them in Japan with a somewhat limited distribution and asked me for my thoughts. I said I'd have to try using one before I could give him good feedback. Japanese houses are a bit different from the US. He said he happened to have a Roomba with him that he could give me. Yay! I happily received the Roomba and today I FedEx'ed it to my house in Japan.

I'll write more about it when I actually get it working. I'm curious about how my dogs will react. I've been fascinated with the Roomba ever since I met Helen Greiner the co-founder and Chairman of the Board of iRobot. I first met her at the World Economic Forum as fellow Global Leader for Tomorrow. Later I watched a presentation she gave at ETech. She talked about military robot applications and it freaked out some of the tree-hugging hacker types there, unfortunately. Apparently, Colin is in charge of robots that scrub floors and she's in charge of robots that blow things up.

Roombas have been out in the US for awhile now and I have many friends who have them, but this doesn't make me any less excited to see one in action in my house. Thanks Colin!

UPDATE: Someone privately noted to me that it sounded like I might have pressured Colin into giving me a Roomba. I think anyone there can assure you that I didn't apply pressure. I didn't even know Colin had one with him. I was sincerely trying to find out where I could get one. I posted this note mainly because it's likely that I will be writing about my Roomba in the future and I wanted to disclose that I got it for free and in what context.



Great news!

Roombas are truly life changing for sure! Of course you may wind up spending a lot of time actaully watching the Roomba going round and round, but that will wear off eventually (so it hasnt for me)

I received mine in December 2004, and with only one mishap, for which Roomba sent a brand new one out via courier, everything is great. Dont forget to empty the thing, and to take the dog hair out, otherwise Roomba will be truly sad

My story of Roomba

I dropped by your site after reading an article about you on Malaysia's The Star Newspaper Online. I am just curious about other people's blogs. Though I am not really into the things that you blog about (Tech stuff), I still enjoy your site a lot =)

Dude.. she literally showed pictures of how robots were being used in the Iraq war.

A month before ETech I was nearly getting arrested in the SF anti-war protests.

Sorry if I was a little on edge.

I mean jeez.. its not like this stuff ISN'T happening Joi! :)

Weren't you harassed at the airport a while back coming into the US!

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

This is a company which gets a significant amount of funding from DARPA contracts to pay for your nice clean house :)

Well, I thought "tree hugging hacker" was funny. ;-) Yeah, the presentation was indeed a bit scary for me too.

But if they can use DARPA money to help scrub my floor, that's great. Remember that the Internet started with some DARPA money too.

A hoover that can also hunt terrorists, it's actually quite brilliant ;)


* A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
* A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
* A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

If humans make a robot that is capable of breaking the first law, then when AI will becomes self aware, humanity is in deep trouble.

A robot capable of harming human is the 21st century's pandora box.
and as stupid as humans can be we're trying our very best to open it.

Now why would we do that?... oh yeah MONEY... again...

Of course it is not the researcher that is accountable for his research, as they always say: "i was envisioning other use for this research".

It's not the technology that is evil, it's the humans that weild it. Guns don't kill people, it is those with the trigger.

So of course the best thing to do would be to remove the guy at the trigger and put a robot instead.

Internet is agreat thing , granted, but it's not BECAUSE OF darpa. It is because some university people decided to open to the world. not the darpa.

but a robot that is capable of releaving the guilt of killing?
this is plain wrong.
fundamentaly wrong.

haven't you guys read Asimov? he's warned us billions of times, and he even wrote three simple rules for us humans to follow.
Can we humans at least once in our history not go where we're not supposed to?
Can we leave the pandora box closed?

The trigger of a killing capable machine should always always always be activated by a human being. never a program.
It's as simple as that.

Joi if you can have those people's ear, offer them an asimov book, you may just save Humanity by doing so.

making a device that is capable on its own of killing, is removing humans from the top of the food chain.

I hope you've seen the Saturday Night Live phony commercial for "Woomba," the little Roomba-like device that chases women around the house and zips up their leg and beneath their skirts to help thme "stay fresh."


"Tree-hugging hacker types"?

Come on Joi - I expect better, even if you have been given the bung of free roomba.

Yeah, the free Roomba has definitely influenced my judgement. I admit it. So there.

On a more serious note, there was a paper that I saw presented by a Tokyo University professor long ago which theorized that Japanese have a lot less trouble living with robots because of the Shinto faith. We never had a revolts against machines and in the Shinto faith, we believe all things, including tools have spirits. Tools are often given ceremonies like funerals after they expire. The theory was that Western culture felt something "wrong" with the notion that a thing had a spirit or was in some way equal to man or living creatures. It was was argued in the context of the early and rapid adoption of robotics in Japanese factories and how quickly they were personified with names and even hats.

I never figured out how plausible the theory was, but it was interesting.

When Vicki and I were in Japan together (in 2001) we stayed in Yokohama at a hotel that had a window-washer robot. Vicki was enthralled. They placed notes in all of the rooms letting us know, and it was still startling. Vicki was there when the robot climbed across our windows and washed them, using tracks built into the building exterior. She was enthralled and took pictures when she saw it while out walking the next day.

Perhaps the greatest acceptance of robotic devices in North America is with automated trains (although I worked where there was an internal-mail-carrier-robot until e-mail took over). The skyway tram in Vancouver, BC, is an excellent example, and I notice I don't even think about the automated trains at airports. The new monorail in Seattle will be pretty automatic, though there may be "drivers" to deal with emergencies and make decisions at stations.

I just realized that a Roomba is perfect for our busy lives and lots of cat hair to keep picked up, so I placed my order today. I can't wait to see what our three cats make of their new playmate.

With regard to placing machines in places where human judgment is essential, I trust that we can understand and preserve the difference. A great military and humanitarian-relief application might be in clearing minefields, for example.

Kirsty Boyle talks about the same Eastern approach to robots. Her site, gives alot of info. If you recall the name of the professor that gave the talk, I'd like to know.

Another great use for the Roomba (child amusement and management) was recently mentioned on BoingBoing... the source was here

I like the idea that we need not all be Luddites...

welcome to the world of Roombaing...Tom Evslin over at Fractals of Change has a good post about his Roomba in case you missed it...he also has a dog who has to deal with this thing running around...

I have had a Roomba for about 1 year and LOVE it! I have placed an order for Scooba which picks up dirt and MOPS the floor. Will let you know how it goes.

There is also a Pink Roomba now. When you choose the pink model, 20 percent of the $180 purchase price proceeds go to support breast cancer.


Truly one of the real innovative products that really works! Im unsure how deep it cleans but the carpets look great afterward, it picks up a ton of stuff...even small objects like thumbtacks...great to use before my grandson comes over to crawl around. It knows my rooms, does everthing advertised and more. I call her Paula after my former cleaning lady. My dog likes her to. Paula eats up dog hair like french fries at MacDonalds. UGU. Truly a work of tech-art. Low maintenance...keeps on working.

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The iRobot marketing assault at eTech was the scariest conference keynote ever. Props to Burtonator for asking the ethics question. (thanks to g10 for locating the original strip used in the presentation, in which the original dialogue had been... Read More