A dream of the future -- or possibly a nightmare -- is on display in Japan in an exhibition titled "Android: What is Human," presenting examples of the world's most realistic humanoid robots.
The android robots are being showcased at Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, all the works of robotics specialist Hiroshi Ishiguro.
In eerily human-like fashion, the robots move their lips in sync with a recorded voice-over and show facial expressions through blinks and eyebrow movements.
Although they remained seated during demonstrations, they were able to move and use their hands.
Ishiguro, an Osaka University professor who's been working on humanoid robots for more than 20 years, has given his creations uncannily realistic human-like skin, movements and speech.
"Making androids is about exploring what it means to be human," he said, "examining the questions of what is emotion, what is awareness, what is thinking."
The three android robots include Kodomorid, a human female child robot who is a news presenter, with the ability to recite news reports from anywhere in the world; Otonaroid, an adult female android robot that the museum said will be teleoperated and act as a "robot science communicator" to interact with museum visitors; and Telenoid, a minimally designed small robot that can be picked up by visitors and cuddled.
While the insides of the robots feature complicated, programmable mechanisms, it is the outsides that some people find remarkable and others find, well, a bit creepy.
The researchers, after making plaster casts of a real human models, use a special variety of silicone with the appearance of human skin in creating the android robots' bodies, including facial features created with hundreds of painstaking hours of molding and painting.
Programmed to mimic realistic facial expressions and human gestures, the goal is to have the androids interact with real humans as convincingly as possible.
Some robotics researchers have been critical of "humanoid" robots or androids, suggesting recreating human appearance is a pointless goal -- and can even be creepy -- and that robots can be useful to humans while still looking like what they are in truth, namely machines.
Ishiguro disagrees, envisioning a world where robots that look like humans will be a part of everyday life.
The robots at the museum are a step in that direction, he says.
"Until now, you could only see androids in research labs, so having them as permanent museum exhibits is an advance," he says.
He said the museum robots would help visitors think more about the future of humanity.
"In order to make something that is useful for people, we must first understand human beings.
"Androids may not be in use straight away, but the process of understanding our nature is the most interesting part of the study of androids," he says.