Words you've longed to hear: 'Come and be touched by a robot'

Do you think life is stressful? Then walk this way and lie down.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Touching, isn't it?

Screenshot by ZDNet

I was thinking of going to CES this year.

But then I read the immortal words of Consumer Technology Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro, in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: "We will all be taking risks. But without risk there is no innovation."

This seemed to be some hopeful reference to the Omicron outbreak and many large companies canceling their personal appearances at CES. Somehow, Shapiro's touchingly twisted logic made me feel too tense to get on a plane.

Just as I made this decision, up popped words I never thought I'd hear: "Come and be touched by a robot."

This was the most alluring CES pitch I'd heard in a long time. A pity it came too late for me to experience it at CES, but I thought I'd investigate further.

What would I have to do to be touched? Would I like it? Would it leave scars? Would I ever be the same again? 

Would you believe this was a pitch for a massaging robot?

As with many PR pitches, I went straight to the video. It began: "Introducing Alex." I'm not sure whether that's the robot's name or the name of its massagee. In essence, however, the idea is that you lie down, just as you used to with your human masseur.

The robot's arms, wheels, and other bits then approach you in order to touch you in all the tensest places.

You'll want the technical terms, won't you? This is, apparently, "a life-sized autonomous massage robot with collaborative robotic arms and cloud artificial intelligence."

It uses Google Cloud, as well as Google's money. It seems the company was one of the early investors.

I can hear already hear you wonder: "How does the robot know where I need to be touched?"

The answer: "Users can control robot motion and force with their normal voice in English or Mandarin, as well as in 28 other languages. With Machine Learning, the robot can create and recommend massage routines. In addition, users can build their own personalized routines and then share them using an intuitive mobile app."

We are nowhere and nothing without sharing and an intuitive mobile app.

One can see, though, that this thing may have some restorative merits. Massage Robotics, the makers of this perhaps fine addition to your life, have very strong views about massage in general: "Massage has a reputation for sexual misconduct that people don't want to associate with. Nobody wants the jokes to be about them or, worse, nobody wants to be assaulted. For people with body image issues, the last thing that will relieve their stress is a stranger rubbing the imperfections they have the most insecurities about."

Enter the touchy-feely, non-judgy robot.

Naturally, Massage Robotics makes highly exalted claims about this machine: "The robot will never get tired, will never judge, will never misbehave, and will never transmit disease. It's superhuman."

Doesn't it need cleaning?

Still, we all want to get touched by a superhuman at least once in our lives.

The difficulty, of course, is that only tech CEOs can afford to have this gadget in their homes. It retails at $310,000.

The idea is that your local massage emporium will employ these robots, rather than human masseurs.

It's an alluring thought, isn't it?

Then again, I used to enjoy hearing my masseuse's stories while the knots were being removed from my being. (And goodness, were there some stories.)

I think I want this robot to talk to me. Don't you?

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