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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


In June 2006 at the ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories in Keihanna, Japan, reporters and scientists gathered for the unveiling of a major new project by Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro. Once everyone had arrived, an assistant pulled back a curtain to reveal…another Dr. Ishiguro? Certainly the second figure had a very strong resemblance to Dr. Ishiguro, wearing the same glasses and dressed in the same clothing. Seated in a chair, the duplicate was rocking one foot back and forth, blinking and adjusting itself. It looked around and then, in ordinary Japanese, introduced itself; it was named Geminoid HI-1.

For the reporters, up to that point virtually the only clue that Geminoid was an android had come from knowing that Ishiguro is a prominent roboticist. Ishiguro's creation is more a puppet than an android, strictly speaking; Ishiguro speaks and acts through it via the Internet. As well as transmitting his voice, a motion-capture system allows Ishiguro to project the movements of his mouth and upper body onto Geminoid. The android itself is built of silicone and steel, and based on casts taken from Ishiguro's body. Regular, small actions such as blinking are controlled by autonomous programs.

The strikingly realistic robot has since been met largely with wonder and admiration, which could mark success for Ishiguro in more ways than the obvious. Although Ishiguro's earlier android projects were only a little less realistic, they tended to disturb viewers. This is consistent with a 1970 hypothesis by Dr. Masahiro Mori, another Japanese roboticist. Although not yet well-investigated by science, Mori's "Uncanny Valley" theory holds that as a simulation of a human being's appearance and/or motion becomes increasingly accurate, there is very suddenly a point at which humans' interest in the creation turns into utter repulsion.

Ishiguro was inspired to develop a mechanical double after becoming tired of his long commute from the little town of Keihanna to a teaching position at Osaka University. He sees the android double as an improvement on videoconferencing, allowing not just the speaker's image and voice to be transmitted but also his or her presence. In stark contrast with the Western fear that androids could become strong enough to overpower human beings, the Japanese forsee a future in which humans and androids work together amicably and productively.

However, the Uncanny Valley effect may prove to be an impediment to human-android interactions as androids come to resemble humans more and more closely. It's an issue that Ishiguro wants to help resolve. One of his early robots was based on casts of his four-year-old daughter. It was capable of only basic movements, and thus was not quite lifelike. Ishiguro's daughter was so terrified by it that she refused to set foot in Ishiguro's lab after seeing it. Later on, Ishiguro made a robot copy of newscaster Ayako Fujii; despite being equipped with a much more intricate system of motion, it was still described as "creepy". Ishiguro's double is even more of an improvement, and most observers have been amazed and intrigued rather than unnerved. This may indicate that he has found the level of detail necessary to cross the Valley.

So why might there be an Uncanny Valley? There are a number of theories regarding its cause, all of them tentative since the existence of the Valley itself is not yet verified. One idea is that empathy for clearly nonhuman entities is based upon the recognition of human characteristics in an irrefutably different context. The human mind recognizes the subject as an obvious nonhuman, and then is attracted to it by the presence of human qualities.
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Posted by Ajay :: 6:02 PM :: 0 comments

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