Robots and Androids Progressing Faster Than You Can Possibly Imagine

5 minute read
| Particle Debris

The evolution of robots and androids, it seems, is progressing at an exponential rate. Collaborative research, the development of robotic technologies and AI together are putting ‘droids in hotels and airports. Soon, like Alexa, our homes.

“Ava” from the movie Ex Machina. Image credit: Universal

This week’s Particle Debris isn’t just one notable article, but a series of articles that tell an evolutionary story. Let’s dig in.

Hanson Robotics specializes in bringing robots to life through facial animation. One of their robots was showcased by Business Insider. “This lifelike robot could be straight out of ‘Westworld’ — and it really freaked us out.

Back in April, I wrote about a project by a single person, Ricky Ma, to build a lifelike humanoid. In that case, it was Scarlett Johansson. What’s progressed from that, it seems, is Hanson Robotics ability to express human emotions via facial expressions. Watch the video at BI to see how far we’ve come in less than a year.

The next item reminds us that technology is moving faster than social norms and statutes. “Are We Destined to Fall in Love with Androids?” I read a story about a man who married his iPhone, [to send a message to all] and so a relationship with a fully functional, intelligent android doesn’t seem all that far-fetched anymore.

Many of the issues science fiction writers first brought up are now crashing in on us. Let’s start with the basic question. “Since robots can, by design, live forever, what are the ethics involved in designing a kill switch?” The discussion is here: “Killing the immortal: Why scientists are debating the life span of robots.”

I read an article about mail-order android brides. If the owner becomes dissatisfied, a replacement is ordered. What if the android forms an attachment to the owner and doesn’t want to be re-initialized and recycled? There was a Star Trek Voyager episode, The Swarm, that dealt with that topic indirectly.

Where is Apple in all this? I have wondered myself. It seems Apple would rather spend money competing with Netflix on original TV content.

Going to a smaller scale, we’re also rapidly developing small robots for various specialized tasks. Here’s just the beginning, I think.

Here’s another small robot that could come in handy. “I Love This Robot That Kills Mosquitos With A Laser.” I can imagine a small robot that has sharp teeth, great discovery skills and a taste for termites and spiders.

Perhaps we’ll need to add exterminators to the list of jobs that are threatened by robots. Or perhaps the job changes. The robots are leased and managed by a human agency. One can’t own them all.

Exercise for the student. Develop artwork that marries the above two physical design concepts, a bug on legs with a laser. (I’m sure the U.S. military already has.)

Do Androids dream of electric humans?

Next page: The news debris for the week of January 30th. You can never be too thin. Unless you’re a MacBook Pro.

6 Comments Add a comment

  1. geoduck

    Hansen Robotics Sophia:
    What is it that makes her so damn creepy? She has all the little motions down but somehow she is at the bottom of the Uncanny Valley. Setting aside the top of her skull is missing, what is it? The skin still looks like plastic. It’s good but still not skin-ish somehow. The eyes move appropriately, but you can tell they are just glass. What is it in the eye that makes us know there is someone behind there. I can look at my cat, Momiji and in her eyes I can see that there’s something living behind them. Even fish eyes or lizard eyes give that feeling. Why is it so hard to make a robot that doesn’t scream ROBOT when you look at it?

    This reaffirms my theory that we would be better making robots that look like robots. Put all of the intelligence in them. Give them voice capability. Just don’t make them look like people because that is something you’ll never really pull off. How about a personal robot for seniors. It would be a two foot tall purple spider with hand like manipulators on the front. It would be strong enough to sit on, heck make it so it could even carry the senior if they got tired. With hands they could make meals, do laundry and other chores. Two foot tall means it would be four foot tall if it reared up on its back legs. That’s tall enough do things in the kitchen, laundry room, chores around the house. It could do anything a theoretical Android could do and more actually. Plus it would not have the Uncanny Valley problem.

  2. maysie

    The so-called “uncanny valley” is a totally overblown issue. After a few moments the disorientation fades. It’s more an uncanny speed-bump. Worst case, put a bag over your robot’s head if it bothers you so much. Hanson simply makes extremely ugly robots. If you look at the new Realbotix head, it’s very attractive and appealing:

    This is definitely the most exciting thing happening in technology today, but Apple under Tim Cook is much too conservative to lead or even play in this space. Once this happens in a big way Apple can join the party late and license the patents from industry leaders or spend years in court for violating them as they frantically try to catch up.

    Sorry Apple robot-wishers, Cook is going to Balmer this.

  3. palmac

    Given how versatile robotic design is coupled with the disparate needs of consumers, there’s going to be a lot of different robots with different abilities at different prices. From the faux human model (very expensive) to the robo-pet (low end) so things like the uncanny valley or personal aesthetics won’t be a problem. Some companies will make human-like bots, others will make bots that look like Loony Tunes cartoons.

    If you want to see how personal robots might work in everyday life, watch anime. There are hundreds of stories concerning how society interact with robots that range from palm-sized anthropomorphic smart dolls acting as personal computers (Sumomo in Chobits) to military-grade fighting vehicles with a child-like wonder and curiosity about the world (Tachikoma from Ghost in the Shell).

    And if you think robots are awkward and clumsy, check out the latest from Boston Dynamics:

  4. aardman

    I can imagine AI being advanced enough combined with machines powerful enough to give the illusion of sentience. But the appearance of sentience is a long, long leap from actual sentience.

    This talk of the ethics of shutting off a robot permanently is driven by people who cannot distinguish between the real world and bad science fiction. As hard as I try, I cannot imagine how a machine could ever feel physical, psychic or emotional pain. (They can be programmed to appear like they are feeling pain, but that’s just to fool humans.) And until someone can prove that it can, any talk of the ethics of killing a robot is, to put it plainly, just stupid.

  5. vpndev

    “If the iPad is earmarked to replace the Mac someday, it has to do all that the Mac can do and more. That’s basic innovation theory. But that’s hard to do on a 12.9-inch display. And that’s why the Microsoft Surface Studio was a strategic masterpiece.”

    And that is the big “IF”.

    Anything that replaces the Mac will have to build and debug iOS apps – that’s a given.

    And I will bet that more than a couple of folks in Cupertino looked at Windows 8 and gasped “I can’t believe they did *that*” And then resolved learn from Microsoft’s lesson and not make that same mistake. I don’t think they were headed quite there, but the MS debacle certainly made it clear that certain UI schemes were *ahem* less than good.

    If iOS and macOS do eventually merge then it will be a flexible dual-personality scheme. It clearly can’t be based upon the current single ID / no filesystem iOS model. That can’t possibly work for development – don’t even think about it. But a switch for iOS to a multi-user/ filesystem-visible model will be easy. That’s the convergence path I forsee.

  6. macjeffff

    I love my 2016 MacBook Pro. It’s super fast and light, and I even use the Touch Bar sometimes. The battery lasts all day for me, but then i’m not trying to edit video for hours on end.

    I agree it’s too thin and I’d like to see an SD card slot and at least one standard USB. On the other hand, I bought one gadget that has an SDcard slot, two USB ports and one other thing, and it takes care of all my issues. I don’t understand why the trackpad is so big, and I don’t understand why the Touch Bar is so thin. These design choices seem nonsensical.

    But I really like this machine. I love the way my Apple Watch unlocks it, I love the touch ID, I love the ease-of-use, and I love the overall elegance. No buyer remorse here.

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