Nov 30, 2017 I Brett Tingley

AI and Robots Are Hacking Human Sleep

If you still think all the warnings about the impending robot and artificial intelligence uprising are just paranoia, you’re not paying enough attention. Robots and machine learning networks have been steadily creeping into our lives for years. From manufacturing to self-checkout kiosks at grocery stores to self-driving taxis or long-haul trucks, robots are beginning to perform many tasks that were once the responsibility of humans. That’s not all though - robots and AI are also researching case law for legal firms, analyzing medical data in hospitals, and winning poker tournaments. What’s next?

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We all know what's next.

According to recent developments, they’ll be invading our bedrooms next, that’s what. And no, not just for that (although according to most reports, they’re pretty good at it). Robots and artificial intelligence are now beginning to revolutionize the most important activity we engage in while in bed: sleeping. We spend nearly a third of our lives asleep, yet millions of individuals worldwide suffer from various sleep disorders. Why not let a cold, emotionless robot crawl in bed next to soothe you to sleep with its simulated breathing? What could go wrong?

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With a few added features, Somnox could be a one-stop bedroom bot.

A Netherlands-based robotics laboratory has released what they’re calling the “world’s first sleep robot,” called Somnox. Somnox is essentially a bean-shaped stuffed animal with an internal robotic skeleton wrapped in mattress foam that can expand and contract similar to the way living things do as they breathe. The shape of the robot encourages users to spoon and cuddle the faceless monstrosity, which then ‘breathes’ at a soothing rhythm and speed to help “soothe body and mind, helping you feel more relaxed and energized.” The robot can also play a variety of sounds and music, and has a companion mobile app for data collection and control of sleep-inducing audio or music.

Speaking of which, another laboratory has used artificial intelligence to compose the world’s most effective lullaby. Artificial intelligence firm Jukedeck have developed a neural network capable of analyzing human-created lullabies in order to find the most effective aspects of each. Ed Newton-Rex, the founder and CEO of Jukedeck, says AI can detect the somewhat ‘hidden’ patterns revealed by the types of large-scale musical data analyses of which AI is capable:

An artificial neural network is essentially a representation of the neurons and synapses in the human brain - and, like the brain, if you show one of these networks lots of complex data, it does a great job of finding hidden patterns in that data. We showed our networks a large body of sheet music, and, through training, it reached the point where it could take a short sequence of notes as input and predict which notes were likely to follow.

Using this analysis, Jukedeck and partner AXA PPP healthcare of Kent, England have created an AI lullaby claimed to be one of the most effective lullabies for inducing sleep:

Sure, it’s soothing I guess, but I can’t help but feeling like the overall impression is a bit sterile; it sounds like what you would expect a computer generated melody to sound like. Computers are getting close to being able to produce compelling and moving art, but they’re not quite there yet. It’s only a matter of time, though, before human-generated art has to compete alongside AI-generated art which can take full advantage of human emotional responses much better than humans can.

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Would the addition of a cute face help users get over the creep factor of hugging a robot while you sleep?

Will individuals seeking a better night’s sleep take to cuddling robots and listening to AI music? If so, why not build these features into a human-shaped robot? Why not add a personality simulator and artificial intelligence to help it learn your sleep habits better? See where this is going? Somnox might be a cute little cuddle machine, but it’s still a machine. Who knows what kind of doors the adoption of such a robot could open? I know one thing: I’m sewing googly eyes on mine. His name will be Chopstick.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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