I, Robots: Androids so Real, They’re Unreal

Robots that look like people, programmed to have their own emotions and facial expressions and to react to human interaction?

It sounds like science fiction, but within the past decade, it’s also become reality. And Japan’s Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro is at the forefront of making it come true, with his remarkably lifelike robots.

He’ll be at the Wheeler Centre next month.

Robot Looks Like Inventor

Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro with his robot twin, Geminoid HI-1

Ishiguro completed his first android robot, Geminoid HI-1, in 2006 – modelled on himself. He uses his doppelganger to give lectures to his students, operating his robot self by remote control. He says the idea was to be able to skip the hour-long commute to his classes.

‘I want to check whether students, as well as my family, can feel my presence through Geminoid.’

Geminoid-F Android in a Tokyo Department Store #DigInfo

Geminoid F ‘waits for a friend’ in a Tokyo shop window.

Ishiguro’s twin was followed by Geminoid F, a female robot modelled on an anonymous Japanese model in her mid-20s. She is programmed with 65 behaviours, making her ‘one of the world’s most intelligent robots’, according to Time. She can sing, smile and react by reflecting the emotions of those around her.

Her exploits so far have included acting in a play with human actors (playing an android), posing in a Tokyo shop window while pretending to wait for a friend, and singing at a Hong Kong trade fair.

Geminoid F Sings

Geminoid F sings at a Hong Kong trade fair.

Actroid F, a version of Geminoid F manufactured for use in hospitals, is in the Guiness Book of World Records as ‘the first true android’. The robot nurse can’t walk, but is positioned by patients’ bedsides to make them feel as if they have company. So far, the patient response has been positive.

Japanese Nurse Robot (Actroid-F) Oct 2010

Actroid F, the robot nurse.

‘I want to see more androids and robots in our daily life, everywhere,’ says Ishiguro. ‘I’m not sure if that’s good or not, but I really think that’s my role.’

He says that with the right technology, he can build androids that think, act and react like people. ‘What is a human?’ he asks. ‘Please define, and we will make a copy.’

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