October 22, 2006
iDream Interactive’s Rot Rox, which “simulates a human friend,” is claimed to be the first Apple OS X Dashboard widget “with Personality.” You might find higher-quality friends and better conversationalists by joining a cult, but this is a slick and telling piece of work. It runs on a proprietary, underpowered, new, and trendy platform (the Dashboard); incorporates about the level of verbal skill that Eliza did 40 years ago, but without the clever framework of a therapeutic session; and integrates standard Mac voices and an eye-follow-mouse gimmick. My opinion of the bot may be artificially deflated, because it is supposed to do something clever with iTunes, which I don’t use – perhaps there’s a great gimmick there. Of course, I wanted a better conversation and a more amusing framework for this interaction. I’m not sure exactly how to break the ice in the “there’s a metal man on your dashboard” situation. As the digital equivalent of a stress ball or other corporate toy, though, there’s no point in being disappointed about this empty robot-suit. It’s a good thing that people are continuing the march of bots and virtual characters into new niches of the digital world.