Week 8: The Future of Humanoid Robots

This week I would like to talk about humanoid robots. I found it agreeable to the statement “If we are to build a robot with humanlike intelligence, then it must have a humanlike body in order to be able to develop similar sorts of representations” (Wilson 381). However, I would also like to post the question that is it always true that the more humanlike the robots are, the better they could serve us?

In the reading for another art class, the standard for a good robotic anthropomorphism is categorized, similarly but more concisely, in three areas: look, sound, and behavior.

A good example of robots with extremely humanlike looks could be found with the ones created by Japanese Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro. His robots not only have exactly the same construction as the human but also the right proportion and scale. With further development on the skin texture, it’s very possible that people wouldn’t be able to tell them from the real human in the future.


Another example of robots with lifelike human sound could be found in the movie Her by Spike Jonze. The operating system “Samantha” introduced in the movie is able to communicate with her users with a characteristic voice. Along with the natural tone and flow, together they make her almost like a real person on the other side of the phone. It’s also very likely how the current natural language user interfaces, such as siri, will be sounded like in the near future.

However, no matter how humanlike the looks and the sounds of robots are, it is still unrealistic to conjecture that they will behavior exactly the same as the human. Although largely improved, Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro’s female robots still reveal one of the most fundamental barriers with robotics: the smoothness of the movement. If this could be a solvable problem, then the seemingly perfect “Samantha” who still went beyond the line to got into relationships with thousands of users again proves that even the most logically optimized system would think and perform somewhat differently then the human being. And we can see that even the pioneer speculators are still unsure about how “natural” the robots can be in terms of their behavior.

This is called the uncanny valley where the robots, instead of acting like a piece of machine, behave more like a dysfunctional human being. And these abnormal behaviors will very likely bring us a lot of troubles both physically and emotionally. Moreover, when robots finally evolve to become “super human”, do we accept them just as another race? If not, how will the human continue keeping them under control? Whether we should stop before reaching the valley or painfully push through it could be a very good question for us to always keep in mind.

— Xi Wang


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