While some may think designing a robot in man's image is surreal, unnerving and sometimes downright disturbing, others disagree. In Japan, two new androids were recently revealed to the public. Their abilities and overall humanness is sure to raise some eyebrows.
They have skin, muscles, emotion-conveying faces and jobs. One android is a news announcer, the other, a science communicator. Connected to the Internet at all times, these androids process and announce news and information immediately.
Kodomoroid, the news announcer, is a "young girl" with the uncanny ability to deliver global news and weather reports right away. Otonaroid is an "adult female" science communicator that can have face-to-face conversations with humans.
The two androids are on exhibit at the Miraikan Museum, otherwise known as the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. The museum, based in Tokyo, Japan, gives visitors hands-on opportunities to understand innovations in science and technology.
The new androids have soft silicon skin, artificial muscles, and the ability to change voices. Their humanness is part of a broad, long-term research goal of their maker Hiroshi Ishiguro. Ishiguro wants to answer the question of what it means to be human.
The exhibit outline, shared in a press release by the Miraikan museum, echoes Ishiguro's goal. "If an android robot gains the ability to talk and live identically to a human, you may not be able to distinguish between androids and humans before long. If this comes to pass, what would the word human mean?" By blending together technology, science and anthropology, Ishiguro hopes to be able to find an answer to this question, or at least spark further curiosity in the subject.
Visitors of the "Android: What is Human?" exhibition at the museum can hear the latest news and weather report from Kodomoroid, converse with Otonaroid, and even operate her. The remote-controlled androids cannot actually move around-they stay seated-but they can sway, blink, and move their hands expressively. Their articulation is perfect, but, as expected with any piece of technology, there are glitches. The androids' mouths are not in-sync with their words, and a few times, Otonaroid did not respond to questions directed her way.
For some people these glitches may be a comforting reminder that, while they seem human, they're not.
But what is "human" anyway? According to the museum exhibit, "this question has been subject to debate since ancient times, and efforts to find an answer are still being made in all fields, including the humanities, social sciences and art. Building an android can be described as a process of understanding what makes a human look like a human."