Robotic Route to Answer Existential Questions

Published: 02nd July 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd July 2014 12:54 AM   |  A+A-

She has long brown hair, twitches her eyebrows, sways her heads from side to side and uses her hands for emphasis. But despite her realistic appearance, she is in fact a hi-tech robot—“working” at a Tokyo museum as a humanoid guide for visitors. The human-like robot, known as Otonaroid, is one of two life-size creations who enjoyed their first day of “work” last week at Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Kodomoroid, another android created in Japan, can read news, recite tongue-twisters, speak multiple languages and interact with people. Designed as a “child” robot, it can use a variety of voices and switch from a male base to girlish tones in seconds while operators put in text.

Hiroshi Ishiguro, an Osaka University professor and robotics expert, is using them for research on how people interact with robots and on what differentiates humans from machines. In over 20 years developing androids, Ishiguro has made a point of mimicking the human appearance, even sending robotic doubles of himself to give overseas lectures. These robots are designed to be as lifelike as possible, from their smooth silicon skin to their eloquent articulation. The purpose of the humanoids, which were unveiled at the start of a major new permanent exhibition showcasing cutting-edge robotics, was to encourage interaction between humans and robots and explore what differentiates the two.

Human fascination with robots has resulted into robots in many shapes and sizes, sometimes, even social humanoids. A growing group of scientists are trying to create ultra-humanoids robots—breathing and all, motivated by their philosophical pursuit, to understand what it “means” to be human. These scientists are keen to erase the line between technology, philosophy, psychology and art, taking inspiration from real-world studies to examine existential issues that were once aloof for speculation by famous personalities like Philip K Dick or Freud.

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