A science-fiction-like future in which robots replace people may not be that far off. In Japan, life-like robots are about to be launched in a variety of roles.
Daily Mail reports that these robots will be used as actresses, full-size mechanical copies for pop idol fans, and clones of the dearly departed.
In fact, the naturalistic female robots may even be taken up by men as partners.
Android Asuna is one of a series of geminoids, which, says robotics professor and creator Hiroshi Ishiguro, are ripe for commercialization.
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Asuna is so convincingly human that earlier this month at Tokyo Designers’ Week showcase, many people bowed respectfully before requesting politely to take her photo.
Attendees noted that she was well-made and had a nice voice; others marveled over her realistic skin and facial expressions.
“We had been focusing on perfecting her skin, facial expressions, and so on, so for now Asuna is really just a head,” said Takeshi Mita, CEO of A-Lab in Tokyo, the company that partnered with Ishiguro to make Asuna. "Now we are working on her arms and torso to give very natural, fluid body language."
Because she is currently unable to use some of the advanced artificial intelligence systems that some Japanese robots use, Asuna’s life-life qualities can be attributed to a camera rigged behind her, which is relayed to a remote human controller. Thus, Asuna is able to take on the operator’s personality.
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Although Asuna appears to be a relative success, previous attempts by Ishiguro’s team were met with what has been called the “Uncanny Valley syndrome.” This term describes the response of revulsion and creepiness when faced with something that looks almost, but somehow not quite, human.
Asuna and other A-lab androids have already appeared on stages and have voiced actors’ lines. Others have filled human jobs and have been used as receptionists and even news readers.
Two fem-bots from Ishiguro’s collections have been working these positions since June at Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation: One robot greets — and makes eye contact with — guests to the museum, while the other lip-syncs the day’s news perfectly from an AI source.
A third and thoroughly unnerving baby-like Telenoid speaks by proxy from a control box manned by museum visitors.
As the robots' functions and uses in society evolve, a spokesman working with Ishiguro’s lab says it is not a great leap of imagination to think the bots will be used for sex.
“Androids for the sex industry are a definite possibility,” said Takahashi Komiyama. "Some have even fallen in love with Ishiguro’s geminoids. So we can’t rule those relationships out."