Robots Are Looking More Human As Research Continues
Sporting a stylish bob haircut, a humanoid robot called Erica chats to a guy before an amazed audience in Madrid. She and other robots like her are the main focus of robotics research, as their human form could be crucial to integrating these machines into our own lives, said investigators collected this week at the annual International Conference on Intelligent Robots.
“You mentioned project management. Can you please tell me more?” Erica, who’s playing the part of an employer, asks the guy. She might not understand the conversation, but she has been trained to determine keywords and react to them.
A source of dispute is due in part to concerns for robots working for us, the existence of robots in our regular lives is necessary and probably unavoidable according to engineers at the summit. The secret to making them more acceptable, they added, would be to make them look and behave more human so that we take them into our own lives more efficiently.
In our ageing societies, “robots will coexist with humans sooner or later”, said Hiroko Kamide, a Japanese psychologist who specializes in relationships between robots and humans.
Welcoming robots into families or offices involves developing “multipurpose machines which are capable of interacting” with people without being harmful, said Philippe Soueres, head of the robotics department in a lab belonging to France’s CNRS scientific institute.
Human, But Not Overly Human
Therefore, robots need to move around “easily ” despite their stiff mechanics and stop what they’re caught by an unexpected event, he added. That is why people are selecting “modular systems shaped like human bodies” that are meant to fit into real-world environments built for people readily.
For example Atlas, a humanoid robot created by Boston Dynamics can operate on various kinds of surfaces. In Madrid, founder of the US Company, Marc Raibert, played a video showing Atlas performing a backflip.
In an indication of fears over the possible future uses for these humanoids, Amnesty International has challenged Atlas, financed by an agency of the US Department of Defense, of being a “killer robot” created for future warfare.
Another instance of humanoids introduced in Madrid is Talos, a robot created by Spanish firm Pal Robotics shown analyzing his liability on a balance board. While it might not be the only form used for people coming into contact with people, that is reassuring, but it also has its limitations.
Japanese research Masahiro Mori’s “uncanny valley” concept, which he developed in the 1970s, says that we respond undoubtedly to robots if they have appearance familiar to us, but they disturb us if they start looking too much like us.
“You cannot ever make an ideal human face,” and this imperfection elicits a sense of “rejection” among individuals, said Miguel Salichs, a professor in the robotics laboratory of Madrid’s Carlos III University.
As such, he opted to style his robot Mini Maggie to a little cartoon animal.
In Japan, robots such as Erica are already employed as receptionists. However, for one of their manufacturers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University, humanoids are “an essential tool to understand humans.”
Researchers need to think hard about the human form and the way people interact with build robots that look like them. “We understand the humans by using robots, the importance for example of eye gazing,” said Ishiguro, who’s also made robots that look like dead actors, or “moving statues.”
He considers that humanoids are best to enhance interactions between humans and robots. “The human brain that we have has many functions to recognise humans. The natural interface for the humans is the humans,” said Ishiguro.
For the president of artificial intelligence startup NNAISENSE, Jurgen Schmidhuber, robots–be they humanoid or not–will be portion of our future. They will not just imitate humans but will resolve problems by experimenting themselves due to artificial intelligence without “an individual instructor,” he thinks.
Sitting on her seat, Erica nods her head.
The field of robotics is quickly growing. Robots are now able to perform complex moves with style — preparing parkour moves, back-flipping, even “carving” classical sculptures.
Then there is Sophia, a robot whose general appeal lies not in large, dramatic actions (her chest is often attached to a rolling base), but instead, an unsettling human-like face, compounded with all the intricate intelligence to represent emotions.
“We’re not fully there yet, but Sophia can represent a number of emotional states, and she can also see emotional expressions on a human face as well,” explains David Hanson, the founder of Hanson Robotics.
The company has developed a variety of Sophia’s in their little research and design lab in Hong Kong, where pieces and parts of Sophia 20, 21 and 22 remain strewn throughout the facility.
Hanson states, Sophia now has simulations of all significant muscles in the human face, enabling her to form expressions of despair, joy, confusion, contemplation, curiosity, sorrow, frustration, among other emotions.
“In some of the work we’re doing, she will see your expressions and sort of match a little bit and also try to understand in her own way, what it is you might be feeling,” says Hanson.
Besides deep learning and a pre-programmed pair of sayings, Sophia’s face is assembled with the most recent improvements in material technology, meaning it appears softer, suppler and for that reason, more realistic. The laboratory also studies the neurobiology and biology of human facial expressions to help inform how mechanical ones can act.
“She is a tool for science in studying human to human interaction, and she’s now a platform for allowing AI to express natural-like human emotional state(s), which is something we’re developing. True emotive AI,” says Hanson.
When Hanson first started sculpting Sophia, he desired her kind to resonate with people from all over the world. To this end, he seemed too old statues of Nefertiti, early Chinese paintings, Audrey Hepburn as well as his wife as inspiration. But he also wished to keep something of a robot sensibility, also.
“It was very important that she represent this intersection of humanity and technology, with the intuitive idea that technology can enhance humanity, help us actualize to higher states of being,” says Hanson.
“At the same time, (technology can) provoke these questions: What does it mean to be human? What is real, what isn’t real? What is the reality of our future which does not yet exist?”
Since her activation in 2016, Sophia has since graced the covers of fashion magazines and starred in a new Moncler campaign. At an event, Shanghai Fashion Weekend, Sophia wore 3-D aluminium arm cuffs and sculptural garments inspired by British celebrity Sadie Clayton.
“The reason I was interested in working with Sophia is that being an artist, it fuses fashion, art and technology. This was the most natural, organic way of me developing my process,” says Clayton.
“I think she is so stunning in her right. And the expressions that she gives, it’s a really beautiful, warm feeling.”
Besides modelling, she’s made on talk shows and spoken at conferences about topics which range from artificial intelligence to the use of robots. Controversially, she was conferred Saudi Arabian citizenship, becoming the first robot to have a nationality.
“She’s the one robot of the dozens of robots I have designed, that has become really internationally famous,” says Hanson.
“I don’t know what it is about Sophia, that speaks to people, but I hope that we can develop our AI and robots in a way that makes a deep emotional connection.”