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Scientific Metamorphoses: robots resemble humans

woman.jpgIn a recent interview for an article, Honda Motor Europe’s William de Braekeleer told me: “The long term objective of our engineers is to create a robot able to help people in their daily lives. So that is why ASIMO has been designed to walk and move just like us.”

Others have in mind resemblances beyond movement. Android Science in May 2006’s Scientific American describes an honest-to-goddess android called Repliee Q1Expo that looks like a thirty-something woman. To create it, Hiroshi Ishiguro used silicon rubber and polyurethane to cover the metal armature and Japanese newscaster Ayako Fujii as his model.

Japanese are less anxious about robots than Westerners and regard them as benign and friendly—Sony’s robot dog AIBO (see FHIT article) is treated like a family pet in many Japanese homes. Nonetheless, humans may be uneasy about robots that are similar to them, but not similar enough—what the Japanese apparently call “spooky valley”.

No matter how similar to the Pygmalion myth Repliee's creation may seem, Ishiguro does not think it necessary or possible to sculpt Blade Runner-like replicants. Rather, he sees developments like Repliee as a means for humans to understand themselves better .

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