Will robots ever become just like humans?

Not-so-artificial intelligence

Also in this week's column:

Will robots ever become just like humans?

Asked by Chuck Schroeter of Seattle, Washington, USA

We are getting very close to building an almost human-like robot. However, we will never be able to build a completely human-like robot since robots will never be able to biologically reproduce.

Other than this, theoretically, robots could look, act, think, and feel like humans in every way. There are only technical problems that need to be overcome in achieving this. Such technical problems are being overcome one by one.

The development of humanoid robots today focuses on three major areas:

  1. control of manipulators (what it can do)
  2. biped locomotion (how it can walk)
  3. interaction with humans.

Here are some recent developments:

  • The movements of robots have previously been awkward and non-human like. Now, a robot can belly dance just as well as a human. The "Flexible Spine Belly-Dancing Humanoid" has been developed by Dr Jimmy Or of the Takanishi Laboratory Humanoid Robotics Institute of Waseda University in Tokyo. See Artificial Life (MIT), Winter, 2006.
  • Human-like "walking in a straight line to making a turn has been achieved with the latest humanoid robot ASIMO". This is according to Drs M Hirose and K Ogawa of Honda Research and Development Company, Ltd of the Wako Research Center in Saitama, Japan. See Philosophical Transactions, Series A, Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences (Royal Society of London), January, 2007.
  • Humanoid robots are now so well developed that they are regarded as human beings by 10-month old infants. This was the finding of Dr A Arita and colleagues from the Department of General Systems Studies at the University of Tokyo. See Cognition, April, 2005.
  • At ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories, near Kyoto, Japan, Hiroshi Ishiguro's latest humanoid robot, Geminoid H1-1, is a near perfect replica of its creator - down to the frown in his face. See New Scientist, 14 October 2006, pp. 42-46.
  • People find robots more likeable the more human they look, but only up to a point - once they become too lifelike they become frightening. See New Scientist, 22 July 2006, p. 32.
  • The human-sized, humanoid robot "H7" is designed for autonomously walking, performing tasks, and interacting with humans in an indoor environment. H7 is the invention of Dr K Nishiwaki and colleagues from the Digital Human Research Centre of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology of Tokyo. See Philosophical Transactions, Series A, Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences (Royal Society of London), January, 2007.
  • French researchers led by Dr Alain Cardon of the Laboratory of Information of Paris "propose to develop a computable transposition of the consciousness concepts into artificial brains, able to express emotions and consciousness facts". See Cognitive Processing, December, 2006.
  • Skin being developed at MIT will enable robotic hands to sense when something is slipping through their fingers - and to react to stop it. See Popular Science, September, 2006, p. 64.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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