Scientists say they can now build near-perfect replications of a human being, and that they finally have the technology to bring the inanimate to life.
Scientists are liars. Here are seven robots that reached for "life-like," and came up with a big handful of your worst nightmares.
The Geminoid was built by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University. He's used a mold of his own body for the overall shape of the robot, programmed his body language and voice into it, and even implanted his own hair into the android's skull.
Prof. Ishiguro, in summary, would very much like to be killed and replaced by a robot, stopping just short of sending out beautiful, handwritten invitations to the T-1000, requesting its presence at his upcoming All-Night Knife and Choking Party.
The professor often speaks through the robot, rather than personally attending company board meetings. So, perhaps this is a good time to stop bitching about your boss. At least he's not forcing you to pitch your latest project to a dead-eyed robot clone of himself.
Why It's So, So Creepy
On top of the simple implication that we can all be replaced by robots, the Geminoid is mostly creepy because it's not quite an exact replica of Ishiguro. It's more like Ishiguro built a slightly retarded younger brother for himself, giving it a permanent expression of intense confusion and frustration.
It's like the Geminoid is always trying to figure out just what the fuck it's doing here, much like you probably are right now. It also reacts a little too convincingly when they start repeatedly poking it directly in the face, hard. It seems to grow annoyed--almost enraged--but then they stop just short of provoking a killing spree, and it goes right back to puzzling out what the hell all that was about.
This suggests a level of reasoning and consciousness that is intensely disturbing. You probably don't want that robot figuring out that there are two things in this room that can pass for Professor Ishiguro, and only one of them doesn't have to sit in a folding chair getting poked in the face by research assistants for the next 20 years.
Simroid was designed by the Kokoro Company to assist dentists in training--hopefully just with dentistry, and not so much on how to get to third base with an anaesthetized patient. The Simroid has air-controlled muscles for a more fluid, natural movement, soft silicon skin for a more human texture, a limited vocabulary to express her current emotional state, and has been programmed to respond to basic commands. She also has highly sensitive receptors all throughout her mouth, so that she can react to pain in a convincing manner.
In a nutshell: Dentists were sick of causing their fellow human beings even a small amount of pain while training, so they designed a robot that does nothing but feel pain better, and more efficiently.
Why It's So, So Creepy
Even setting aside for a moment the disturbing fact that they've built a robot just to hurt it, Simroid brings to mind some other, seriously creepy possible uses. Let's see if you can guess where we're going with this: She has a lifelike mouth, soft skin, responds in a variety of ways to pressure in her oral cavity ... and has even been equipped with a gag reflex, so she can accurately respond when "instruments are inserted too far into her mouth." In the interest of good taste, we're not even going to say what those "instruments" might be.
(Dicks. It's dicks.)
Albert Hubo was built to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. And what better way to honor such a brilliant and gentle human being than by building a recreation of his head and bolting it to a cartoonish Korean robot in order to impress convention-goers. It was kind of like honoring Gandhi's lifetime of achievements by digging up his corpse and sewing his decomposed face onto a Transformer so it can dance for nickels outside of the arcade.
Why It's So, So Creepy
"The Uncanny Valley" is the term used for the disturbing feeling you get when something is incredibly lifelike and human, but some small aspect or feature of it throws the perception off. Like the jerky way a robot moves that's not quite convincing, the stilting way it talks that's not quite natural or, in this case, the fact that it's only a human head crudely stapled to an anime-style mech. That's not slipping down the Uncanny Valley, that's being jump kicked down the Uncanny Stairwell.
The only thing creepier than building an entire robot to resemble a human being, is only building one small part of a robot to look like a human being--leaving the rest as cold, hard steel. Don't believe us? There's nothing too creepy about C-3PO, right? In fact, meeting him would be pretty neat. Now, imagine that as you shake his hand, your eyes slowly drift downward, and you notice that he's entirely golden--just as usual--except for two tiny, pink human feet. Suddenly it's Horror Camp, and you're staying the whole summer.
It's great that they've chosen Einstein for this unique honor, too. He's one of the few internationally recognized faces. An image so culturally constant that the part of your brain responsible for facial recognition can't help but register him as a friend ... until he comes stomping across the convention floor, his face abruptly bursting into an unsettling facsimile of his trademark grin. His cold, dead eyes locked onto you in a vicious parody of friendly recognition. And then, just when you think it can't get any worse, he reaches out for a hug ...
Jules is the flagship android for Hanson Robotics, also responsible for Albert Hubo up there. Jules is their most lifelike robot to date, both in physical appearance and artificial intelligence. He comes equipped with some basic servos in his arms and torso, and some seriously advanced animatronics throughout his head and face. He even has hi-res cameras in both eyes so that he can "see, and track people" to help him "lock-on to his conversation partners."
That's ... uh ... that's just a smidge ominous.
Why It's So, So Creepy
At first glance Jules isn't so bad. He's just lifelike enough to put you the littlest bit at ease. You might be a bit uncomfortable interacting with Jules, but nothing unbearable, and everything about him is carefully designed to minimize even that small discomfort. He is specifically built to be androgynous, he speaks with a pleasing pseudo-British accent, and the default state of his facial expression is happily bewildered, like a confused puppy. That is, until Jules turns to profile:
And you see that the back half of his skull has been sheared off, leaving only a mass of twisted wires and whirring motors.
However, it's not until you get into Jules' personality software that things start to get really, truly creepy. You see, because Jules remembers conversations and learns from them, Hanson Robotics insists that "if you treat Jules poorly, it may not be nice to you."
Hold up a minute. Let's get this straight: If you dis Jules, he'll note it, remember it and respond in kind. You know, we have a word for that in the English language:
They have built an android that can almost pass for human, learns from its mistakes, tracks people and actively seeks revenge. There is literally an entire genre of big-budget Hollywood films about how you should not, under any circumstances, do exactly that.
Oh, and one more little aside here in this video: Jules wants to know more about his sexuality. Jules wants you to explain it to him. He wants to explore his sexual nature. With you.
We know that you might be a little creeped out about being hit on by a robot and you probably want nothing more than to get the hell out of there, but just remember: "If you treat Jules poorly, it may not be nice to you."