America did not have a good week. U.S. employers shed jobs last month for the first time since April, with 140,000 positions cut, according to the Associated Press – mostly in restaurants, bars, hotels and entertainment venues. COVID-19 is on the rise. And the tumultuous transfer of power currently stumbling gracelessly toward the finish line briefly erupted into a riot that left Congresspeople hiding in their offices and the Capitol building full of smashed windows.
It was a week so bad that any reader who would rather draw the shades and think about absolutely none of it isn’t just well within their rights – they’re making the best possible decision.
A decision that deserves our help, and we bring tidings of great joy. These things may not make the front page, but the robots are dancing, the Shamrock Shakes are coming and Celebrity Wheel of Fortune is almost here. There is still good news out there, and quite a lot of it.
One just needs to know where to look.
The Truly Amazing World of Robotics
At PYMNTS, we’ve long bemoaned that with all the technological advances making machines better at tasks we don’t really want to do ourselves, we still don’t have robot butlers to call our own. In a perfect world, we’d be telling you the wait is over, and that we’ll all be able to buy our own robot butlers starting next week. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world – but the world we do live in managed to cough up a pretty good consolation prize. Robots may not be ready to do the laundry or empty the dishwasher, but they’ve gotten amazingly good at busting a move.
For those who skipped over the video, we strongly suggest reconsidering, as it’s one of the more enjoyable watches of the year. In it, a series of Boston Dynamics robots definitively answer the question: Do you love me, now that I can dance?
The answer, incidentally, is yes. Yes, we do.
Which, according to Aaron Saunders, Boston Dynamics’ VP of engineering, is pretty much the point: introducing the world to the fun side of robotics.
“This one was definitely anchored in fun for us. The response on YouTube was record-setting for us: We received hundreds of emails and calls with people expressing their enthusiasm, and also sharing their ideas for what we should do next – what about this song, what about this dance move – so that was really fun. My favorite reaction was from my 94-year-old Grandma, who watched the video on YouTube and then sent a message through the family asking if I’d taught the robot those sweet moves. I think this video connected with a broader audience, because it mixed the old-school music with new technology,” he told IEEE Spectrum.
And dancing robots aren’t the only artificial beings developing skills the world didn’t know they needed. The BBC this week reported that an AI program had taken a turn for the artistic and picked up the paints. The program, cutely named Dall-E, produced avocado armchairs, radishes in tutus taking dogs for a walk, cats in sunglasses and other bits of AI weirdness – all at the behest of its trainers entering short text-based descriptions, leveraging a catalog of 12 billion images and their captions sourced from the internet.
Named for surrealist painter Salvador Dali and the little animated robot Wall-E from a Pixar movie, Dall-E was, according to its creators, tasked with “creating anthropomorphized versions of animals and objects” and “combining unrelated concepts in plausible ways.” An ability that is impressive, the team noted, but limited.
But keeping it simple and adequately odd does tend to inspire the computer toward delightfully off-kilter output. Perhaps not as arresting as seeing a robot dog lip-syncing to the beat, but definitely more unexpectedly fun than what the average AI is producing.
And speaking of beating the averages – let’s talk sugar, shall we?
The Season of Sweets
The holiday season gets all the hype when it comes to sweets – all of those cookies, hot chocolates and gingerbread houses create the impression that the merriest time of the year is the ranking champion of overconsumption. Even so, we think 2021 is the perfect year to truly indulge.
For example, Popeyes, which is known for its New Orleans-style fried chicken, last month rolled out chocolate beignets. Deep-fried, chocolate-stuffed and covered in powdered sugar, they are available for a limited time in batches of three for $1.99, six for $3.99 and a dozen for $7.49.
The beignets are part of what Sami Siddiqui, president of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen for the Americas, described as the team’s efforts at “continuously innovating” to create new menu items.
And if the thought of loving, and losing, the chocolate beignet is already threatening to break one’s heart, more fast food-related good news is on the way. The Shamrock Shake – tall, bright-green, mint-flavored and seasonably available to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day – will soon be back at McDonald’s. Its superfans, of which there are thousands on Twitter, managed to persuade McDonald’s to kick off Shamrock Shake season early in 2020 on the argument that they “really needed it.”
And that was pre-COVID-19. People need it even more this year – though it remains to be seen whether McDonald’s will start the season early two years in a row. But even if there are no Shamrock Shakes to be had in February, we as a society will be able to comfort ourselves by consuming 58 million pounds of chocolate in the latter half of the month – as that is how much we typically purchase annually to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
And it’s followed six weeks later by Easter, when Americans will consume 120 million pounds of candy – including 16 billion jelly beans, 90 million chocolate bunnies and four million peeps.
And if one is worried that March is looking a little lacking in sweets, we refer to the aforementioned Shamrock Shake, and the fact that the experts are predicting that 2021 will be the year of the boozy cupcake – which I think we can all agree we’ve earned.
And for those wondering what they will do while eating this ponderous pile of sugar? Three words: Celebrity Wheel of Fortune. It’s candy for the mind.
Spinning the Wheel
Everyone knows Wheel of Fortune – it’s an American institution. Spin the wheel, guess a letter, buy a vowel, try very hard not to land on the bankrupt slice. We all know Pat (Sajak) and Vanna (White). These days, the very familiar show is doing something different – for the first time, it’s throwing celebrity contestants into the mix and slipping into a prime-time slot on ABC.
According to reports, the show is very similar to the classic WoF, but the puzzles are easier. Not because the celebrity guests need easier puzzles, according to the release, but because they are playing for charity – and so the goal is to run up bigger prizes.
Early guests, according to reports, will include Drew Carey, Teri Hatcher and Chrissy Metz.
And if game shows aren’t your bag, you’ll also get to stream a lot of first runs with an HBO Max subscription in early 2021 – and Netflix does produce a new movie every 12 minutes, so there is no shortage of entertainment options.
We encourage all of our readers to partake in that last option this weekend, as they try to forget the week that was – or at least the week that made the news.