Freakishly real robot might make humans redundant


When you consider the potential of the technology we’re developing to cause serious harm to humanity in the future, it makes sense that there are those hard at work trying to make technology more approachable by making it more human.

The Japanese are leading the charge on this, seemingly spurred by the need to create advanced robotic helpers for their swiftly aging population. Since not everyone is going to like the idea of having R2D2 helping them out of bed in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, there is clearly a need for more humanoid assistants, if only to try to calm fears that they will one day decide they don’t need us.

But I doubt I’m alone when I say I’m not so sure that the advances in this field are doing much to make me feel more comfortable. I’m kind of freaked out by it.

The robot in these videos is a “Geminoid” – a term coined by Japanese scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro. According to the creators’ website, “A geminoid appears and behaves just like its source person. Also, it is tightly-connected with its original by information paths.” In other words, it’s meant to be a fully automated clone of someone real, down to the facial expressions.

The Geminoid in these videos however, is from Alborg University in Denmark, where their goal is to try to understand the differences in cultural perceptions of the artificial humans. In the first one, the robot even appears to breathe. My first impression was that it had to be faked – that this was just a real guy pretending to be a robot, but judging from the “making of” videos, it’s real alright.

Readers, what’s your take? Freaked out? Excited? Ready to swear your allegiance to our new robotic overlords?

[CrunchGear via Sayomg]

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44 comments

  1. BBJack

    Jeesh! The most likely market for these things is not helpers for old folks but sex dolls. Someone is going to make a fortune.

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  2. Cary

    the guy in the third video looks exactly like the robots in the first 2 right down to the logo on his t-shirt. First 2 videos are frauds

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    • Simon Cohen

      I know, that was my reaction too, and yet a couple of things point to it being genuine. 1) They have a video of the head being made here: http://c.aau.dk/geminoid/face.html and the unfinished mould certainly looks very realistic. 2) watch the eyes blink in the first two videos – there’s something mechanical about the way they move and I detected a slight puckering of the skin at the edges of the eyelids that I doubt we’d see on a real human. Also, in the first video, his eyebrows move in unison with the blink – that’s not a very natural movement to make.
      And I’m not sure that just because the clothes are the same that we can assume it’s a fraud ;)

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      • Ben

        Simon you look so much like the robot. You are very handsome and would like to have a robot looks like you.

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    • Bob S

      If you go to the Geminoid guy’s website, you’ll see that they indeed make the robot by copying of a real individual. Whether this robot is fake or not, the fact that it looks like the hand model guy in the lab is not proof of anything.

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    • Kitty

      @Cary
      Sure, they look incredibly similar, but that doesn’t mean they’re fraud. I don’t find it difficult at all to tell that the first two showcase a robot, and not an actual human. There is something artificial-looking about him as well as his slight movements. The fact that you can’t tell the difference is a little disturbing.

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  3. michelle

    wow are people impressed by the simplest of things! Yes the mechanics of the thing is an improvement on other “robot” type creations but, seriously, how anyone can think this is real enough to be considered a fake is beyond me. This is really no different to watching a How They Did It part of the special features menu on a DVD.

    Now can we watch a vid of paint drying? or grass growing or….you get the point.

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  4. Bonnie

    These robots scare the hell out of me – they could be used in the future as soldiers. The whole thing (like cloning), just creeps me out.

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    • Eric

      why does it scare you, as a soldier I would gladly let a robot soldier get blown up in Afghanistan rather then myself. I would even let clones go over there to get blown up rather then real home grown soldiers who have wives, children, and families. I can see robots being a huge advantage in military and civil services. The moment a robot is released as a in-home aid I will get one just to do my dishes.

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      • HoaiPhai

        Sorry to tell you this but creating clones without family ties just for battle would not be more humane than sending an uncloned person into war. Clones are just like identical twins of the person from whom their genetic material was originally taken. A cloned human develops at the same rate as a regular person so growing future clone armies without family ties would mean subjecting people to living their whole lives, from birth to deployment, in institutions. Unless you kept them absolutely isolated, which would be inhumane in and of itself, they would form close personal ties to whomever they grew up around, including their handlers and other clones. These people would mourn their death as would conventional family members.

        Now if you want to play the sci-fi speculation game of imagining clones bred from “seed to squad” at an accelerated rate of, say, a few weeks, why not imagine a future scenario where we have time machines and could go back and eliminate our enemies’ leaders before they become a threat (like killing Hitler in kindergarten, for example). Just be careful in such a dream…you never know if your own parents might not have met in a world without World War II in its history!

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      • Krantzstone

        I agree. Clones would need to be recognized as human individuals in their own right and accorded all the same human rights as non-clones. Ditto for sentient A.I.s/androids.


        [Picard and Guinan are talking about the significance of the creation of multiple Datas]

        Guinan: Consider that in the history of many worlds, there have always been disposable creatures. They do the dirty work. They do the work that no one else wants to do because it’s too difficult or too hazardous. And an army of Datas, all disposable… You don’t have to think about their welfare, you don’t think about how they feel. Whole generations of disposable people.

        Capt. Picard: You’re talking about slavery.

        Guinan: Oh, I think that’s a little harsh.

        Capt. Picard: I don’t think that’s a little harsh, I think that’s the truth. But that’s a truth that we have obscured behind a… comfortable, easy euphemism: ‘Property’! But that’s not the issue at all, is it?

        /from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ episode “The Measure of a Man” (1989)
        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0708807/quotes

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  5. Joe

    To be honest, given the sheer numbers of people aproaching old age, I see robotic assistants as being a necessity. There simply aren’t enough younger people to support such a population, no matter how much more healthy they are living.

    At the most basic, a robotic presence would be good for reminding the elderly or disabled to take medication on time, to monitor security and alert emergency personel if there is a problem.

    I don’t see robots doing the jobs of humans, cooking, washing clothes or anything like that, however. Given this, do we need them to look human? Would it not be as easy to create something similar to a dog, or maybe even a more personalized version of an R2D2?

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  6. Forcemaster2000

    It might “look” realistic, but the second it started moving I could tell it was mechanical. Sit it out in the middle of a mall on a bench and people would be able to tell with just one glance that something isn’t right.

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  7. xorbitman

    Actually you guys haven’t seen anything yet. The country with the most advanced robotics labs and production deployment plans is Vietnam! That’s right! You heard it…Vietnam. They have a government funded company that’s planning a production robot soon “For Every Home” That is fully mobile! The first prototype was placed in a tournament against ping pong champions and lost badly…it wasn’t nearly fast enough so they went back to the labs and made all the necessary changes and developed prototype two which is now invincible at ping pong against any human opponent even 2 against one! Put that in your pipe and smoke it! Their plan is to have their robot in every home in the western world within 10 years from now once production is started. The robot can do the following things: All household chores including laundry, dishes, cleaning; walk the dog, security, watching the kids, changing diapers, assisting the physically challenged, even cooking is on the books….I Robot is closer than you think!

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  8. Dora

    It scares the hell out of me… maybe because I watched too many of those old movies of robots attacking humans…. When science fiction becomes reality and it has for many years now, we must not forget that they are programmable. FREAKY

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    • Estrie

      Agree with you.
      Must be my age, but all this is quite beyond me.
      I WOULD prefer an R2D2 robot or even a C3PO to accompany me to the bathroom.At least they look and act like robots.
      Having that humanoid stand by while I urinated, or got dressed, or whatever else, would be totally unnerving!

      Estrie

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  9. Jake

    Wow the robots do look very life like but I would hardly call a programable machine human or a clone of anything but a like machine . Robots have been around in one for or another for a long time and are used in manufacturing mostly .

    A personal servant type of robot would have to have a quite highly developed program just to replicate human movement never mind performing daily household tasks . I find it quite intriguing how life immitates fantasy and hey if it can do the housework great just give me the remote .

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  10. Stephanie

    What a stupid headline. Out of all the headlines you could have come up with, you picked something so juvenile and unintelligent. You should get a job writing for one of those magazines that have “Bat child” or “My Husband is an Alien”. Surely, that is more your speed if you think that this headline does your subject justice.

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  11. Charlotte

    I think robots are not clones, so yeah, it would make sense to use them in combat. They are NOT HUMAN CLONES, they are robots! It would not be inhumane to ‘institutionalize’ the clones. Further, these also exist as sex dolls already.

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  12. Lou

    Hmmm…Why do robots have to look human? Why can’t they just look like robots? I’m not against having robots to help elderly people but, we need human compassion, relationships, etc. As for cloning, well, I have mixed feelings about that. Cloning human parts for people, I’m ok with otherwise, I’m not.

    Using robots for war…not sure about that either even if it is already being used. It’s still killing lives. Wars have been happening for many many eras and it’s not about to stop. I think it will get worse because of technology.

    So, there’s some pros and cons about this. Depends who gets their hands on it and for what purpose.

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  13. Long Ago

    Can you imagine if the terrorists get this technology. We would have thousands of Bombers walking the streets.

    We would be the Dummies to let this happen.

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  14. DaDe

    And at the same time they are taking about franchising “Blade Runner”…
    if anyone remembers the movie. And “Runaway”, with Tom Selleck, about a virus in an androids that kills people…and also Alien, In Aliens androids preferred to be called artificial persons.

    Hmmm…I believe the correct term in this case would be android…a robot in human form.
    But people are correct, Robots can be programmed to do illegal activities.
    I can see where andoids would not be allowed to cross borders or travel in airplanes or ships.

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    • Krantzstone

      That is why, sooner rather than later, we’re going to need to figure out how to build into artificial intelligences something akin to Data’s “ethical subroutines” (a la Data ST:TNG) or Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. We may not need it now, but it is something we need to work out thoroughly long before the day comes about where we need to start worrying about it.

      /just watched _2001: A Space Odyssey_ on Sunday ;P

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      • Hendrik Boom

        Figuring out how isn’t enough. Even if we figur it out, there will be plenty of opportunity for criminals, or military, to build robots without ethics modules.

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  15. MJ

    While this “ROBOT” looks quite impressive it is far from being able to function without someone operating it by remote control. It is not a fully independant machine capable of doing anything more than a few simple demonstrations. I wouldn’t worry about the robot revolution just yet!

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  16. rexaurus

    I’d replace my wife and kids! Imagine; someone who actually acknowledges me, listens, does what they’re told and doesn’t spend all my money!(and will actually do chores! fantastic!)

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  17. Max

    I would like a clone robot of myself to fetch beer, cigarettes and do the grocery shopping and laundry. oh and maybe wash the car…

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  18. Phil

    You cannot make a robot or computer more human, rather it becomes more human like. Human physiology and psychology are beyond the scope of an android /humanoid. However, specific robotics that does dangerous human tasks exists in many industries; automakers, military and policing are a few. Robotics is used extensively in medicine turning highly invasive surgery into day surgery with general convalescent (physical) time cut by over 87%.

    Honda Japan is one company to whom I have been contracted for many years. The corporate receptionist will fool you. She is an interactive robotic receptionist, speaks several languages, uses the phone system, makes announcements, and voice guides the new comer to the right person. ASIMO greets me in the hallways saying, (he knows I speak Japanese) “good morning …. san, I have not seen you for 49.5 days, how are you”. I still get a great kick out of these robotic interactions. If introducing someone in English ASIMO will speak English. ASIMO can simultaneously speak (simplistically) several languages but cannot translate obscure nuance that too is rapidly changing.

    ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovation Mobility) is the worlds most advanced humanoid. Honda Japan started robotic engineering in 1989 and ASIMO has been in constant development for over 20 years. If you are interested, the following Honda site and video will satiate most readers:

    http://asimo.honda.com/default.aspx
    http://asimo.honda.com/asimotv/Living-with-robots

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  19. Christina Moorshead

    Scientists have been working on artificial intelligence for a long time, trying to create programs that mimic the human mind, I think that’s a far more problematic idea then machines that merely appear human.

    Of course we will turn them into sex toys and that will be a whole other issue, but that’s been true of nearly every human discovery ever made.

    Christina Moorshead

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  20. nalla

    this is a bunch of crap , guy is wearing colored contact lenses, If you believe this you are a fool.

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