I’ve been excited about the evolution of tech since I was a kid. During the heyday of online instant messaging (I can still hear the crackling static and beeps of a loading dial-up connection), I was eager to dabble in any new software that I could find.
At some point in the mid-aughts, I discovered a beta version of an amiable AI companion called Oliver Bot, whom I often chatted with after school. He asked me a lot of questions to learn more about “me” (and humans in general) and in turn, would provide quirky answers to my endless questions about what he did all day, floating through the servers. (He spent a lot of time skimming web forums and liked cats.)
It’s funny to think now that Oliver Bot was an early version of the chat bots we regularly encounter while browsing e-commerce websites, the first line of contact before speaking directly with a human customer service agent.
This type of AI has become purely transactional and less of a digital pen pal, but I take some pride in hoping that my childhood interactions with Oliver Bot helped establish a baseline for the friendly pop-up windows that offer assistance when you visit a new website.
The way that technology has impacted the construction world is something I’ve learned more and more about with every issue of American Builders Quarterly. I often hear firsthand from industry leaders how automation has streamlined processes, created more room for experimentation, offered opportunities for sustainability, and made things safer on the job site. (Who wouldn’t rather send a robot out into the field during inclement weather?)
To explore these concepts further, I reached out to Manolo Almagro, whose presence in the tech world is impossible to boil down to just one word. Almagro is a retail technology consultant, an expert in areas like extended reality and the metaverse, a go-to guru for digital transformation and product development, and a popular livestreamer.
He’s also a family friend and the first person I thought of when my team began to theorize this issue. Photographer Cass Davis and I ventured up to his tech-laden home office, which would make any Silicon Valley A-lister jealous, to hear his perspective on how automation is revolutionizing the ways in which we work, build, and live. This conversation was what inspired the “colossal” robotic arm that Cass built and shot for the cover.
It’s difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of evolving technology, so I’m thankful to have friends in the sector, whether human or artificial. Unfortunately, a recent Google search for Oliver Bot turned up no results—except for a Reddit post asking what became of him, so I can at least be sure he wasn’t a childhood fever dream.
I wish I could log back into my ancient AIM account and get his input on this issue, too. It’s nice to imagine that parts of him are everywhere in the digital cloud now, whether it is predictive algorithms that guess what we want for dinner or the software that renders what a building will look like before it’s printed out.