Teaser Pleaser

To share or not to share? Waso feels an all too familiar awkwardness welling up. Talking to people, still one of her least favourites activities. This is Sam, she reminds herself. Harmless. Harmless! The most harmless of males she ever met. ‚Certified one thousand percent gay‘, as he puts it.

No problem talking to Sam. And she really needs to check, what happens with someone who doesn‘t know. Kicking herself into action, Waso goes, just loudly enough to get noticed on the adjoining deck chair: „Sam? Question?“ 

One of the good things about Sam is his predictability. He immediately looks up from his tablet, and smiles at her. Without complicating the situation by talking. Waso gets the chance to take a deep breath, to fortify her resolve, and utter her question as prepared:

„Would you mind looking at this? It’s for the virtual dog project. Just a blob right now, but you can kind of engage with it. Wanna try?“

As Waso had hoped, Sam takes the phone she‘s handing over, without complicating the quest by demanding additional information. He‘s that kind of person, always curious, always ready to engage with something new. Not prone to outbursts of hard to deal with babble.

Waso can’t see what’s displayed on the screen from this angle, but she doesn’t need to. Sam is looking at a light blue blob on a dark blue background. Not much, certainly not exciting. He‘s still smiling, though, a bit of a default mode with him.

Waso suddenly becomes aware Sam might not be the perfect test subject. Not grumpy enough. But he’s available, and she can handle him. That‘s far more important than stupid scientific notions of representativity. She’ll have to deal with the bias at some point, but not now.

Sam emits a slight giggle. His ear-to-ear grin suggests something is happening on that screen, and that it’s funny, definitely not unpleasant. Waso would love to get close enough to see the action, but physical proximity, that’s so no-no. Even with Sam, there are limits.

Luckily, her test subject is by now so engaged with what he sees on the screen that he starts mumbling softly, providing Waso with some clues:

“Okaysiedaisy, what’s that now supposed to mean? Smiley face, got it, you want me to smile. I am smiling! What’s that sucking your eyes in like a funnel supposed to mean? You stoned? You want me to get stoned? Ok, ok, ok, I am smiling. I never stopped smiling, see? Boy oh boy, you‘re one jumpy… whatever you are. And here we go eyes to funnel again…“

Whatever Sam sees makes him giggle between sentences. So far, so good. But Waso is starting to worry about intuitivity. If it takes someone as clever as Sam more than – one and a half minutes, as of now, as per her watch – to figure out the next step, she might have made this too hard.

At one minute fifty, Sam suddenly gives himself permission to get it. Holding the phone in his left hand, he pokes his right index at one particular spot on the screen, going, with one more giggle: „No way I poke at your eyes, jumpy, not my way. You can go funnel with those as much and as long as you want, no way. But there should be a nose – right here.“

Whatever happened when he touched the screen makes Sam laugh out loud and pull back quickly, before poking once again at the same spot, and giggling at the effect. Next, he pokes at a different spot, and laughs out loud. And pokes at yet more spots, grinning broadly.

Waso is pleased with herself. Sam is deeply engaged with his new acquaintance, acting as if it was a lifeform. How he looks and pokes at what he by now consistently calls Jumpy, that‘s exactly how humans engage with animals they‘re trying to befriend. Totally unlike coming to grips with a chat- or ro-bot. Sam is playing with Jumpy, like he would play with a puppy. Mission accomplished. Waso catches herself grinning at the rows of empty deckchairs and the pool with the lone swimmer. Normally, she insists on poker facing the world, but now is an exception.

„Oh. Over? Done wrong?! Kaputt?“ Sam looks up from the phone and at her, a little distraught under his customary smile. Waso doesn‘t need to check her watch to shake her head and go, in what she means to sound reassuring: „No problem, not kaputt. Timed circuit breaker. Like the child-proof locks, to force them out of games and back to home work, just set to five minutes instead of five hours.“ Considering the implications of Sam‘s slightly dubitative smile, Waso adds: „No idea how else to stop, too. This felt like the least rude option.“

Sam nods, still holding the phone. Waso considers this a very good sign. Her test subject hopes to get another go, the ultimate reward for any developer.

Empowered, she for once easily finds the words to explain her feat:

„It‘s for the virtual dog, first step, proof of concept. Dogs, they‘re very good at reading moods, from facial expressions. Better than people, even people who are good at it, unlike me. And dogs want people to like them, to engage, they’re very companion animals.

My teaser pleaser blob, it uses basic of-the-shelf facial recognition software, like for checking if online ads work, to identify when you‘re smiling. Teaser pleaser blob‘s target is to make you smile at it and touch it as much as possible, over the course of five minutes.

Next time you activate it, my teaser pleaser blob will recognize you, and hopefully get even better at making you smile and play with it. On the first encounter, it uses tools from a predefined set, like making a smiley face at you, to get you going. Next time, it will start with something that worked on you, personally, and hopefully improve on its first performance.“

Waso doesn’t remember ever having talked that much in one go. She‘s practically in lecture mode. Life really can make one do weird stuff. And it gets even weirder over the next hour, with Sam going all business person to get a patent registered for her. Waso doesn‘t mind. Weird is her second name. She only insists on Jumpy as title of the patent. Sam is better at naming.