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Should robots be built to look more like us?



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Post Thu Jun 07, 2007 5:22 am

Should robots be built to look more like us?

Should robots be built to look more like us?

June 06, 2007 6:00 AM

ST. LOUIS ? When it comes down to it, Lewis the robot isn't much more than a red trash can on wheels. And its designer, Washington University computer scientist William Smart, likes it that way.

"I don't want to put fuzzy heads on my robots," he said. "It's a tool. You don't have an emotional relationship with a robot."

Whether or not the relationships are emotional, robots are certainly becoming more social. Especially in Japan, where robots are doing everything from collecting garbage to bathing the elderly to providing child care. Lewis, a picture-taking robot, also has a social role ? to linger on the edges of gatherings and catch people in candid poses.

As these social robots lurch their way into our lives, a question arises: What should they look like? Some scientists say they should look and talk like people, and take advantage of people's tendencies to personify. (Think C3PO.) Others, such as Smart, say they should remain fundamentally nonhuman ? intelligent and capable of reading people, but not obviously anthropomorphic. (Think R2D2.)

Recent advances in voice recognition, programming and stretchable silicone skin mean the time has come to revisit a 37-year-old theory.

It was in 1970 that a Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori, first posited the notion of the "uncanny valley." The theory is simple: The more human or mammalian a robot is, the more people find it pleasing. Robot puppies are more familiar than a robotic arm that works in an auto factory, wielding a welding torch.

But if a robot gets too close to a human likeness without quite achieving it, then people sense that something is a bit awry. Think of zombies or the eerie androids of "Blade Runner." That's the uncanny valley.

Karl MacDorman, a roboticist at Indiana University, worked in Japan on the Actroid Repliees, a series of social robots so lifelike that they might lie on the other side of the uncanny valley. The robots can respond to touch and carry on conversations.

But MacDorman said the engineers were careful never to show the android in a state of partial disassembly. Exposed wires would have ruined the effect and dropped the robot into the uncanny valley.

Source: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbc ... /706060389


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Post Thu Jun 07, 2007 10:02 pm

It's certainly an interesting question that one can ask yourself. I think it's sort of a societal thing where in how we ponder whether we could make artificial intelligence that's closest to being human as opposed to whether we should.
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