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Wish I Were There

May 2, 2014 | Telepresence Options


Story and images by Seth Stevenson / Slate

The Beam telepresence robot lets you be in two places at once.

To view the promotional video for the Beam Pro telepresence robot is to glimpse a strange, disquieting future. Observe as a corporate executive (ensconced in the comfort and privacy of her own home) fires up her global fleet of remote robot slaves, logging into each one, seeing what they see and hearing what they hear. She leads a meeting during which she commands flesh-and-blood underlings from within the fortress of a cold, robot shell. She sneaks up deskside on a surprised colleague, using the robot's near-silent motile capabilities. And--perhaps most chillingly--she engages in a hallway conversation with another robot, screen facing screen, motors whirring. Scary days are just over the horizon, my fellow humans.

Telepresence robots had a coming out moment in March when NSA leaker Edward Snowden used a Beam to appear in robot form on stage at a TED Talk. It was unclear how using the Beam was better than simply projecting Snowden's face onto a screen at the front of the auditorium. But the novelty intrigued me: I couldn't help but wonder what life was like from behind the controls of one's own personal, mechanized avatar.

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