A few weeks ago I got myself an Ember mug for my birthday.

If you don’t know about this wildly frivolous mug, its 80% a typical coffee mug, except its base is stuffed with internal heating thingies, four thermometers, and a battery. As the temperature of your drink naturally falls, the mug’s job is to catch it.

More than any other gadget, this mug reminds me of a beautiful passage from John Markoff’s Machines of Loving Grace, which I recommend to anyone interested in artificial intelligence.

Markoff, writing about self-driving cars:

We will be saved from ourselves by a generation of cheap cameras, radars, and lidars that, when coupled with pattern-sensing computers, will wrap an all-seeing eye around our cars, whether we are driving or are being driven.

While I don’t know if I agree with the conclusion of the passage, that idea of robotics extending our human influence with exacting intent seems powerful.

The Ember mug directs that intent towards coffee.

I keep thinking of an egg toss. Rather than extending your hand and keeping it there to stop the egg’s momentum, like you would catch a baseball, you meet the egg as it arcs towards the ground and move with it, gently slowing its momentum until it’s safe.

The mug catches the falling temperature of the coffee, and keeps it at the perfect temperature. That idea — the perfect temperature — is the actual purpose of the mug. The whole egg-toss-temperature metaphor is all in service of getting the coffee to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, which is cloyingly hot to the sip and warm to the mouth.

Normally I get sucked into whatever work I’m doing in the morning and forget my coffee exists. I don’t know how, as my body rejects the waking day if I don’t get caffeine, but I still manage to forget. This means my coffee is perennially too hot or too cold.

But the Ember mug allows for the five sips it takes me to finish my coffee to be equally perfect. When you put your 100 bucks down, that’s what you’re getting. Five perfect sips of coffee per day.

It’s a daily task that is vaguely vexing, but that I would never have the inclination or precision to remedy by myself. It’s the perfect role for a robot.

Written by

Writing on AI at OneZero. Previously Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store