Sporting a trendy brown bob, a humanoid robot named Erica chats to a man in front of stunned audience members in Madrid.
She and others like her are a prime focus of robotic research, as their uncanny human form could be key to integrating such machines into our lives, said researchers gathered this week at the annual International Conference on Intelligent Robots.
“You mentioned project management. Can you please tell me more?” Erica, who is playing the role of an employer, asks the man.
She may not understand the conversation, but she’s been trained to detect key words and respond to them.
A source of controversy due in part to fears for human employment, the presence of robots in our daily lives is nevertheless inevitable, engineers at the conference said.
The trick to making them more palatable, they added, is to make them look and act more human so that we accept them into our lives more easily.
In ageing societies, “robots will coexist with humans sooner or later”, said Hiroko Kamide, a Japanese psychologist who specialises in relations between humans and robots.
Welcoming robots into households or workplaces involves developing “multipurpose machines that are capable of interacting” with humans without being dangerous, said Philippe Soueres, head of the robotics department at a laboratory belonging to France’s CNRS scientific institute.
– Human, but not too human –
As such, robots must move around “in a supple way” despite their rigid mechanics and stop what they are doing in case of any unforeseen event, he added.
That’s why people are choosing “modular systems shaped like human bodies” which are meant to easily fit into real-world environments built for humans.
For instance Atlas, a humanoid robot made by Boston Dynamics, can run on different types of surfaces.
In Madrid, Marc Raibert, founder of the US firm, played a video showing Atlas doing a backflip.
In a sign of fears over the potential future uses for these humanoids, Amnesty International has accused Atlas, financed by an agency of the US Department of Defense, of being a “killer robot” made for future warfare.
Another example of humanoids presented in Madrid is Talos, a robot made by Spanish company Pal Robotics shown testing his stability on a balance board.
While it may not be the only form used for those coming into contact with humans, “it’s easier for people to accept the robots when they have human-like faces because people can expect how the robots will move, will react,” said Kamide.
That’s comforting, but it also has its limits.
Japanese researcher Masahiro Mori’s “uncanny valley” theory, which he developed in the 1970s, states that we react positively to robots if they have physical features familiar to us but they disturb us if they start looking too much like us.
“You can’t ever make a perfect human face” and this imperfection provokes a feeling of “rejection” among humans, said Miguel Salichs, a professor at the robotics lab of Madrid’s Carlos III University.
As such, he chose to fashion his robot Mini Maggie into a small cartoon animal.
– ‘Understand humans’ –
In Japan, robots like Erica are already used as receptionists.
But for one of their makers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University, humanoids are above all “a very important tool to understand humans”.
Researchers have to think hard about the human form and how humans interact to develop robots that look like them.
“We understand the humans by using robots, the importance for example of eye gazing,” said Ishiguro, who has also made robots that look like dead celebrities, or “moving statues”.
He believes that humanoids are best to improve interactions between robots and humans.
“The human brain that we have has many functions to recognise humans. The natural interface for the humans is the humans,” said Ishiguro.
For Jurgen Schmidhuber, president of artificial intelligence start-up NNAISENSE, robots — be they humanoid or not — will be part of our future.
They won’t just imitate humans but will solve problems by experimenting themselves thanks to artificial intelligence without “a human teacher,” he believes.
Sitting on her chair, Erica nods her head.
Morning Joe guest reveals why even Ivanka is afraid to deliver bad news to Trump: ‘He’ll explode’
President Donald Trump's inner circle is growing smaller and smaller, and the few aides he trusts are afraid to deliver any bad news to him -- and panelists on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" agreed the situation was dangerous.
Co-host Mika Brzezinski asked Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire if the president trusted any of his advisers, and the White House correspondent said he may still seek out counsel from Ivanka Trump.
"He might listen to his daughter, who is in there, but no," Lemire said. "That has been what's happened over the last year and a half, in particular, is the erosion of the guardrails, the erosion of adults in the room who could walk in there and say something. Mind you, it didn't always work, (but) now those people don't even exist."
New Republican group wants to register more voters to keep Texas red
The push by the group, a super PAC called Engage Texas, comes as national Democrats zero in on the state in 2020.
With national Democrats looking to make Texas a battleground, a new Republican group is launching to register hundreds of thousands of new voters here and convince them to help keep the state red in 2020.
The group, a super PAC named Engage Texas, is the brainchild of some of the state's biggest GOP donors, and it is led by a former top staffer at the Republican National Committee. It comes as Texas Republicans look to gain ground in an area where their Democratic counterparts have dominated in recent years: signing up new voters.
Texans approve of Trump’s job performance but have questions about his character, UT/TT Poll says
More than half of the state's voters think President Donald Trump is doing a good job, but they're not as pleased with some of his character traits, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
If you ask registered voters in Texas about the job performance of the people they’ve elected to high office, the top two names on their list are President Donald Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
But the support is not overwhelming: 52% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing in office, while 44% disapprove. And 51% said Abbott is doing a good job, while 31% disapprove of the governor’s work.