No, it’s not a coffee maker though it looks like one. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Japan’s birthrate is shrinking year after year, to the point where deaths are outpacing births. Simply put, Japan’s population is decreasing. But let’s be clear: Population change is a complicated subject affected by many factors.

Western media often correlates the decline in Japan’s population size with recent studies of Japanese sexual habits and marriage. A 2016 study by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Japan, for instance, found that “almost 70 percent of unmarried men and 60 percent of unmarried women are not in a relationship.”

But just because people aren’t in relationships doesn’t mean they don’t want companionship, of course. And that’s where something like Gatebox comes in. Yes, that is an artificially intelligent character who lives in a glass tube in your home. Her name is Azuma Hikari, and she’s the star of Gatebox – a $2,500 Amazon Echo-esque device that acts as a home assistant and companion.

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A couple of key facts about Gatebox. It was created by a Japanese company named Vinclu. It’s about the size of an 8-inch by 11-inch piece of paper, according to Vinclu. And there’s a good reason for that: The device is intended to be “big enough for you to be able to put right beside you.” You’ll understand why you’d want a Gatebox so close soon enough.

The Gatebox is similar to Amazon’s Echo — it’s a voice-powered home assistant. The Gatebox has a microphone and a camera because you operate it using your voice. For now, it will respond only to Japanese; the company making Gatebox says it’s exploring other language options. Considering that preorder units are available for both Japan and the US, we’d guess that an English-language option is in the works. Gatebox does a lot of the same stuff that Echo does — it can automate your home in various ways, including turning on lights and waking you up in the morning.

But that’s not the purpose of Gatebox. The real purpose lies in the virtual character that “lives” inside of it. Her name is Azuma Hikari, and she’s the star of the Gatebox. Beyond being your personal assistant, she’s intended to be a companion of sorts. The company behind Gatebox is pretty direct about its intentions here.

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On the Gatebox official site, translated from Japanese, the product’s vision is described as such:

“The reason why we [developed] Gatebox is not because we are just pursuing entertainment or convenience. We want the characters [to] be naturally in our daily lives and spend relaxing [times] with us. ‘I want to live with my favorite character.’ We dreamed of such [a] world and we started this project.”

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Rather than simply automating stuff in your home, Gatebox aims to fill your home with virtual characters. That’s a lot of virtual characters! But then again, who doesn’t want a fish eating potato chips flying through their living room?  The tone of the character is intentionally conversational. Azuma is your friend, not just your assistant.

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In this example, the Gatebox device sits on a desk, and Azuma can be seen inside, projected onto a transparent screen. There’s even a sweet visualization for her warning. As demonstrated in Gatebox’s latest video, Azuma’s essentially an endlessly friendly, nonsexual life partner. She texts you throughout the day, kind of like a human partner would. And sometimes those text messages are … suggestive. And sometimes they’re direct. In the latest video posted by the creator, Azuma is pitched as the doting partner who’s waiting patiently for your return home. Look, she even turned the lights on ahead of your arrival! And she’s just as interested as you are in sitting on the couch and watching TV. She even has her own chair and mug.

Sold on Gatebox? You can preorder one right now for around $2,500. Vinclu is shipping orders to Japan and the US thus far. You’d better be prepared to wait, though – preorders are expected to ship around December 2017.

Get ready, Player One. Oh dear, what are we coming to…

Check out my related post:

Would you be close to a robot?


Interesting reads:

https://www.ireviews.com/review/gatebox-virtual-home-robot

https://www.digitaltrends.com/home/gatebox-azuma-hikari-virtual-assistant-news/

http://fortune.com/2016/12/18/gatebox-virtual-assistant-japan/

http://www.businessinsider.sg/gatebox-ai-the-japanese-amazon-echo-photos-2016-12/

http://sea.pcmag.com/robotics-automation/12918/news/gatebox-virtual-home-robot-wants-you-to-be-her-master

http://www.player.one/gatebox-japans-answer-amazons-alexa-finally-you-can-have-tiny-holographic-wife-574613

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