Monday, March 21, 2016

Sophia, the human-like robot

Another leap forward in robotics.

Hanson Robotics announced the creation of Sophia, one of the most sophisticated androids to date. Her skin is not made of the usual latex but rather a silicon specially patented by Hanson. Sophia is capable of 62 different facial expressions while cameras in her eyes allow her to recognize faces and follow eye contact. There is also AI capability as Sophia can process speech while sophisticated algorithms allow her to learn as she interacts. From the article:

"Our goal is that she will be as conscious, creative and capable as any human," said Hanson. "We are designing these robots to serve in health care, therapy, education and customer service applications."

But will she pass the Turing Test? Or the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test?

Of course I can't read about Sophia and not think about my recent post on sexbots. Despite however pure Dr. Hanson's intentions, it seems unlikely that this robotic technology would not eventually be utilized to perfect a sexbot. I've mentioned before just how much sex has driven the development of technologies. After all, you're not going to go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator. The competitive nature of markets will naturally demand that after the first fully AI sexbot arrives, other moneymakers will fight to up the ante as it is the nature of capitalism to render your competitor to smithereens. "Our girls are more human than human," Blade Runner's Tyrell might say were he a pimp (that's probably a harsh term in this case. Broker?) Their AI will have to pass for real.

While there are of course problems associated with this, I don't entirely see it as a bad thing. This will force development of the technology and it will eventually spill over into other areas where everyone can benefit. By that I mean the very health-related occupations that Hanson mentioned in his quote as well as many other fields. As the CNBC article also relates, benefactors of these advancements could include the Geminoid work of Hiroshi Ishiguro. I've written about him before (where I don't know as I can't find the link, but I must have.) He has an android version of himself into which he intends to transfer his consciousness. For those of us who want nothing more than to shrug off our frail, sickly, meatspace husk, that's good news.

Yes, I'm aware there are many concerns here. One might even wonder just how well will these robots be able to interact and work with humans? For example, if an office wants to save money and invest in an android but nearly humanlike receptionist, will that receptionist be able to fully parse customer questions and direct them accordingly without seeming too artificial or maybe worse, inept like a menuing system? How will we be best be able to train these robots for work that requires human interaction?

Madeline Gannon might know something about that. I read about her recently and the work she is doing at Carnegie Mellon University. Granted her work is with industrial robots and not the Sophia variety, but its the concept that is integral. Gannon has developed a method that allows robots to observe human motions and then follow them. They see, they learn, and they follow. Gannon is nicknamed the "robot whisperer."

Will "robot whisperer" become a thriving new field? I'd say there's a strong chance.


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