In the past 10-20 years, and beyond the portrayal of Human-like or Humanoid robots in Film, Television and elsewhere, the advancement in robotics did not seem to catch up with the ability to mimic the look of humans.
The ability to stand up and keep balanced for instance, seemed to be a major obstacle, not to mention keeping in motion without falling, or performing more complex tasks.
Mimicking the looks of humans has been achieved in the digital arts and even before, with wax, puppetry and later with electronic puppetry. Even the illusion of natural-like motion has been reached by using motion capture, or even behind-the-scenes puppeteer.
But that’s not the holy grail for robotics. For robotics scientists as well as those who study artificial intelligence, the final destination is producing a convincing copy of a human – made of wires, motors and chips.
How far are we? Hard to say. A bulk of the money that goes into robotics these days is government owned. So naturally the focus is military application.
The military does not have any urgent or burning need to make a robot that looks like a person. They have a need for things such as exoskeletons, unmanned vehicles, and more practical types of robots such as search and rescue, or many different kinds of drones.
But, the technological development, and the race between countries for prestige and knowledge, is bound to produce results.
Here are a couple of examples:
At Global Sources Hong Kong Electronics fair, a robot head was introduced by Hanson Robotics that can mimic human expressions using about 40 motors that move its specially designed face-mask into live. The robot can also interact with visitors thanks to A.I. software and via chats as well as visual contact (achieved through two cameras installed in its front). It’s nothing like an actual humanoid robot (like Data from Star Trek the Next Generation), but its an impressive step.
And at the end of March this year, Good ol’ google filed a patent relating to robots that can change their behavior and personality according to the situation and/or person in front of them. This is not so good, as it may block further development in this branch of robotic behaviorism from fear of patent breach.
These are all nice and good. But what about preparing for the future? Have we not seen apocalyptic visions of robot/A.I. controlled futures where Robots with no conscience or compassion act against their human creators? We have the solution (or at least the basis for it) at ready with Isaac Asimov’s Laws of robotics:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Smart people already voiced concerns as to the possibility of computer smarts that may decide that its superior intellect puts it above humans. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking voiced their concerns as to the day when artificial intelligence may put humans down as inferior and decide to stop obeying them.
Should we be worried? or do we just need to be better prepared?