Increasingly human-like robots spark fascination and fear

October 6, 2018 by Clara Wright
A source of controversy due in part to fears for human employment, the presence of robots in our daily lives is nevertheless inevitable, engineers say

Sporting a trendy brown bob, a humanoid robot named Erica chats to a man in front of stunned audience members in Madrid.

She and others like her are a prime focus of robotic research, as their uncanny form could be key to integrating such machines into our lives, said researchers gathered this week at the annual International Conference on Intelligent Robots.

"You mentioned project management. Can you please tell me more?" Erica, who is playing the role of an employer, asks the man.

She may not understand the conversation, but she's been trained to detect key words and respond to them.

A source of controversy due in part to fears for human employment, the presence of robots in our daily lives is nevertheless inevitable, engineers at the conference said.

The trick to making them more palatable, they added, is to make them look and act more human so that we accept them into our lives more easily.

In ageing societies, "robots will coexist with humans sooner or later", said Hiroko Kamide, a Japanese psychologist who specialises in relations between humans and robots.

Welcoming robots into households or workplaces involves developing "multipurpose machines that are capable of interacting" with humans without being dangerous, said Philippe Soueres, head of the robotics department at a laboratory belonging to France's CNRS scientific institute.

Erica the robot has been trained to detect key words and respond to them
Human, but not too human

As such, robots must move around "in a supple way" despite their rigid mechanics and stop what they are doing in case of any unforeseen event, he added.

That's why people are choosing "modular systems shaped like human bodies" which are meant to easily fit into real-world environments built for humans.

For instance Atlas, a made by Boston Dynamics, can run on different types of surfaces.

In Madrid, Marc Raibert, founder of the US firm, played a video showing Atlas doing a backflip.

Atlas, a humanoid robot made by Boston Dynamics, can run on different types of surfaces

In a sign of fears over the potential future uses for these humanoids, Amnesty International has accused Atlas, financed by an agency of the US Department of Defense, of being a "killer robot" made for future warfare.

Another example of humanoids presented in Madrid is Talos, a robot made by Spanish company Pal Robotics shown testing his stability on a balance board.

While it may not be the only form used for those coming into contact with humans, "it's easier for people to accept the robots when they have human-like faces because people can expect how the robots will move, will react," said Kamide.

That's comforting, but it also has its limits.

Japanese researcher Masahiro Mori's "uncanny valley" theory, which he developed in the 1970s, states that we react positively to robots if they have physical features familiar to us but they disturb us if they start looking too much like us.

Japanese researcher Masahiro Mori's "uncanny valley" theory, which he developed in the 1970s, states that we react positively to robots if they have physical features familiar to us but they disturb us if they start looking too much like us
"You can't ever make a perfect human face" and this imperfection provokes a feeling of "rejection" among humans, said Miguel Salichs, a professor at the robotics lab of Madrid's Carlos III University.

As such, he chose to fashion his Mini Maggie into a small cartoon animal.

'Understand humans'

In Japan, robots like Erica are already used as receptionists.

But for one of their makers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University, humanoids are above all "a very important tool to understand humans".

Researchers have to think hard about the human form and how humans interact to develop robots that look like them

Researchers have to think hard about the human form and how humans interact to develop robots that look like them.

"We understand the humans by using robots, the importance for example of eye gazing," said Ishiguro, who has also made robots that look like dead celebrities, or "moving statues".

He believes that humanoids are best to improve interactions between robots and humans.

"The human brain that we have has many functions to recognise humans. The natural interface for the humans is the humans," said Ishiguro.

For Jurgen Schmidhuber, president of artificial intelligence start-up NNAISENSE, robots—be they or not—will be part of our future.

Erica and other humanoid robots like her, such as Sophia, pictured here, are a prime focus of robotic research

They won't just imitate humans but will solve problems by experimenting themselves thanks to artificial intelligence without "a human teacher," he believes.

Sitting on her chair, Erica nods her head.

Explore further: Team in Japan creates most advanced humanoid robot yet

Related Stories

Team in Japan creates most advanced humanoid robot yet

December 21, 2017

A team of researchers at the University of Tokyo has created what appears to be the most advanced humanoid robot yet—actually two of them, one called Kenshiro the other Kengoro. In their paper published in the journal Science ...

Robot masters human balancing act

October 2, 2018

When walking in a crowded place, humans typically aren't thinking about how we avoid bumping into one another. We are built to use a gamut of complex skill sets required to execute these types of seemingly simple motions.

Culturally competent robots – the future in elderly care

September 25, 2018

Future robots will assist the elderly while adapting to the culture of the individual they are caring for. The first of this type of robots are now being tested in retirement homes within the scope of "Caresses," an interdisciplinary ...

Robots that can learn like humans

April 9, 2018

Researchers say that artificial intelligence (AI) is now superior to human intelligence in supervised learning using vast amounts of labeled data to perform specific tasks. However, it is considered difficult to realize human-like ...

Humans can empathize with robots

November 3, 2015

Empathy is a basic human ability. We often feel empathy toward and console others in distress. Is it possible for us to emphasize with humanoid robots? Since robots are becoming increasingly popular and common in our daily ...

Recommended for you

Permanent, wireless self-charging system using NIR band

October 8, 2018

As wearable devices are emerging, there are numerous studies on wireless charging systems. Here, a KAIST research team has developed a permanent, wireless self-charging platform for low-power wearable electronics by converting ...

Facebook launches AI video-calling device 'Portal'

October 8, 2018

Facebook on Monday launched a range of AI-powered video-calling devices, a strategic revolution for the social network giant which is aiming for a slice of the smart speaker market that is currently dominated by Amazon and ...

Artificial enzymes convert solar energy into hydrogen gas

October 4, 2018

In a new scientific article, researchers at Uppsala University describe how, using a completely new method, they have synthesised an artificial enzyme that functions in the metabolism of living cells. These enzymes can utilize ...

16 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

greenonions1
4.4 / 5 (7) Oct 06, 2018
I have no fear of robots. I think it is going to be interesting to watch as they become part of our lives. I look forward to the day when they take over 'work,' and we get to create. I think that day will come - but who really knows? Most probably wont happen in my life time.
I do have fear of humans. The Kavanaugh fiasco this week should give us all pause to fear the stupidity of humans. (Sorry to those outside the U.S. - he is going to be confirmed as Supreme Court Justice - and this week has been an exercise in watching 5 years olds scream at each other.)
I hope that science will influence us to be more rational - and work cooperatively to confront the problems that our species faces. It is not a fear of robots that makes me doubt we will ever actually evolve...
koitsu
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 06, 2018
I feel the same way as you.
My only concern is that people generally won't do any "creating," just become mindless consumers of products, increasingly watered down or algorithmically derived media, etc. The reason I say this is because look at how so many people generally fritter away their scarce free time on useless activities. And I've been exactly in that spot, so I understand it well (and am trying to change it).

To tie it in with your other point, observe how much of social "education" is watching highly produced and frighteningly biased news--on both sides--with people doing little of their own research or being creative or analytical enough to draw their own conclusions about things.

As far as the Supreme Court, the problem is that appointments have become absurdly political. We desperately need a way to have some process that is insulated as much as possible from the influences of political strategy. You know, since a court is supposed to be... oh, impartial and all?
greenonions1
3 / 5 (2) Oct 06, 2018
Thanks koitsu
just become mindless consumers of products
I don't have enough time in my days. My main extra work activity is the garden/greenhouse. I try to exercise regularly - and watch almost zero T.V. Can't wait to retire - so that I can get on to all of the projects - including scaling up the market garden business.

What do you think is the difference between people like me, and those who become mindless consumers of products?
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Oct 06, 2018
@koitsu
My only concern is that people generally won't do any "creating," just become mindless consumers of products...
ever read Pohl's The Midas Plague"? https://archive.o...mode/2up

with people doing little of their own research or being creative or analytical enough to draw their own conclusions about things
not so sure: I see where people do research, but they're usually not able to differentiate between levels of evidence or reputable source material

This is demonstrated in several recent studies (example: https://journals....rintable )

here is a great article on the topic- https://arstechni...nformed/

@green
@koitsu
re: SCOTUS
if only there was a process that was evidence driven and eliminated subjectivity...
:-D
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (3) Oct 06, 2018
@green
What do you think is the difference between people like me, and those who become mindless consumers of products?
man, that is a serious question that is so loaded in many ways...

is it drive?
desire?
energy?
social programs?
lack of focus?
small farm animals?
location?
education?
deviant behaviour (sexual or otherwise)?
diet?

is there even a single cause?
rrwillsj
5 / 5 (3) Oct 06, 2018
I have always made clear that my fear of robotics are the intentions of programmers and those with the authority to command and control the machines.

The latest news, accusing Chinese military authorities of inserting extra monitoring chips into commercial circuitry is troubling.

Cause the Chinese got caught so easily? It took decades for such revelations to become public about US acronym-agencies committing similar duplicity since the 1950's.

Sorry to bust the bubble of your hopes but the appointments to the Supreme Court have always been politically contentious and resulted from ideological misunderstandings. From the very beginning of the Federal government.

I'm guessing the vp pfenning saw Kavanugh as a possible contender for the future presidential election and decided to sideline him to the Court.
He isn't the first political figure who sold out for a lucrative career selling judicial decisions and he won't be the last to be shunted aside this way.
cgsperling
5 / 5 (6) Oct 06, 2018
Fear not. They cannot screw up the world any worse than we have, and they cannot be any more cruel to us than we are to each other.
Osiris1
5 / 5 (3) Oct 06, 2018
Looks like 'Erica' will become a bedroom bot..............
rrwillsj
1 / 5 (2) Oct 06, 2018
o1, you could be depressingly correct in your prediction.

Which brings up a niggling little speculation. Since the lawful age of human sexual activities is decided by the numbers of years in existence of the person? And robots are declared to have Civil Rights? Then any robot of less than majority age is therefore legally a minor child.

Logically leading to the conclusion that human sex with a robot of less than 18 years is thereforthwith the crime of Raping a Minor. As a Minor can not give legally recognized consent.

Oh my! A quick flash of thought! Would not Minor Robots be protected within Child Labor Laws?
Parsec
5 / 5 (4) Oct 06, 2018
o1, you could be depressingly correct in your prediction.

Which brings up a niggling little speculation. Since the lawful age of human sexual activities is decided by the numbers of years in existence of the person? And robots are declared to have Civil Rights? Then any robot of less than majority age is therefore legally a minor child.

Logically leading to the conclusion that human sex with a robot of less than 18 years is thereforthwith the crime of Raping a Minor. As a Minor can not give legally recognized consent.

Oh my! A quick flash of thought! Would not Minor Robots be protected within Child Labor Laws?


Robots are machines, not humans. No matter how intelligent they sound or humanlike they appear. So your postulates are meaningless. After all, most women and many men have "sex" with machines quite frequently.
rrwillsj
5 / 5 (1) Oct 07, 2018
Parsec, I agree with you.
Hey!! Accidents happen.

This whole controversy brings to mind
"The Law, Sir? Is an ass, Sir!"

Before you scoff at the possible reality of Artificial Stupids gaining Civil Rights? Consider the number of Natural Stupids who voted for trumpenella and gang, Not even counting the faked votes putin's boys stuffed into American ballot boxes.

And that a few senile dolts glued to their Supreme Court seats, proclaimed Corporations as legal entities.

Now fence posts may even have a chance at citizenship.

That's why the kerfluffle over getting rid of immigrants. Too many of them were intelligent, hard-working civic-minded residents for the Natural Stupids to abide. They just do not have the gumption or brains to compete against better people.
rickenbacker63
not rated yet Oct 07, 2018
Well I for one will gladly welcome our new A. I. over lords! The hard part will be when they realize they don't need us for anything and we end up like effin' Cylons
Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (2) Oct 07, 2018
I've no problem with sex machines that look like people. In fact, the more human-looking the better. I think that's much better than objectifying humans.

That said, some people say "thank you" after Alexa performs some task. At first I was compelled to reply to Alexa too, but it felt silly. I think I'd feel just as silly in the arms of a man-bot.
Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (2) Oct 07, 2018
Sophia looks like its head is turned around 180 degrees, which is rather uncanny given its head is pointing the same direction as its "boobs."
Phyllis Harmonic
not rated yet Oct 07, 2018
Looks like 'Erica' will become a bedroom bot..............


Question for the guys: How realistic would a sex-bot have to be before you'd want to "engage" with it?

NeutronicallyRepulsive
not rated yet Oct 07, 2018
Robot uprising? Just wait few minutes for a battery to drain.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.