CH25: Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Cynthia Breazeal didn’t just invent a new robot, she invented the field of social robotics. Before Breazeal, robots were conceived of as brute-force laborers. Whether strong enough to lift what we can’t, able to traverse dangerous terrain on earth or in space, or designed to work on soul-crushing assembly lines, they were endowed with sufficient intelligence to function independently of us and no more.

For Breazeal, something about this approach fundamentally didn’t make sense. If robots were to work with humans, the most important kind of intelligence was more likely to be emotional. She felt that the current experience of using technology was dehumanizing, and would never reach its potential to help mankind. Fifteen years ago at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she built her first robot which learned like a baby. Now, she is bringing Jibo, the great-great-grandchild of that robot, to the marketplace, sending it into homes and families. The first social robot available to the public, Jibo offers services very similar to those we currently seek from our tech, like staying connected with our family and friends, or tracking and improving our productivity and health, but in an emotionally intelligent way that adapts to its user and his or her context.

Read more about Breazeal in her full CH25 profile.