Meet Sophia. She’s an Aries, born only last year but with a face and body of a 30 year-old.
Getting an eery feeling just by looking at her? That’s alright – she’s not an actual human with feelings you can hurt – at least, for now. Sophia is an android built by Hanson Robotics. Her appearance was inspired by Audrey Hepburn and her creator’s wife and she’s one of the robots whose missions are to be part of the society, helping humans in education, health care and other industries.
With skin made from patented silicon, her humanlike expression can be deceiving, at first. Talk to her and the line between humans and robots gets more blurry. She can express anger, delight or love with more than 62 facial expressions, can chat all day long thanks to Google Chrome’s voice recognition technology and other tools and can make eye contact with a camera and process the image she “sees” with a computer algorithm.
Creating something that resembles a human was once dubbed God’s only privilege or a magic trick but as Arthur C.Clarke knows when it comes to sufficiently advanced technology, fantasy realms become reality. As Hanson says, robots will evolve “to the point where they will truly be our friends” by being indistinguishable from humans.
“We are designing these robots to serve in health care, therapy, education and customer service applications.”
Later this year, Sophia’s maker will announce the price for such an evolved friend, better than the virtual ones you’re meeting these days.
Hanson is not alone in his endeavor of upgrading our social relations from virtual-human interactions (anyone remember the Siri-Raj episode from “Big Bang Theory”?) to robot-human conversations. Hiroshi Ishiguro has built Geminoid, a robot that looks just like him but… you know, with plastic skull, metal skeleton and silicon skin. Oh, and his “free will” is controlled by an external computer.
Geminoid’s reason to be is to study humans and their reactions to androids. The first tests showed 80% of humans greeted him and other similar androids with “hello” having no clue that they were actually talking to machines. But Ishiguro is in no hurry to send Geminoids to households, reserving them for researchers.
Brian Gerkey, CEO of the Open Source Robotics Foundation, knows why: uncanny valley. He described the feeling perfectly:
“It is very easy to get to the point where it looks sort of like a person but is creepy and is not quite right, and you might be better off just giving it some more abstract appearance,”
When such fear will disappear and humans will start confiding in robots, we might see a new sort of society emerge. One where you will have androids as best friends, created to support you and be there for you no matter what, unlike fickle humans.