The 7 Creepiest Real-Life Robots
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."
The Actroid was designed to serve as a receptionist and an information booth attendant. She has an intensive AI geared towards question-and-answer sessions and resembles an attractive go-go dancer from outer space because, you know, she was designed by a Japanese guy.
She's primarily used for Japanese science and robotics conventions, and knows over 40,000 phrases in each of four different languages. She can respond 2,000 different ways to an infinite variety of questions which, because she's mostly at science and robotics conventions, have thus far only consisted of "Are you anatomically correct?" "Will you have sex with me?" "Can you have sex with people?" and finally "What about just handjobs?"
Why It's So, So Creepy
The Actroid is fairly tame on the creepy scale ... just as long as she remains immobile. She kind of resembles a high-end wax figurine of a big-boned Caucasian transvestite utterly failing to pass as a cute Asian girl, and that's not so bad. Nothing we wouldn't see on a typical business lunch with our fellow Cracked employees, anyway. It's when she starts moving that you get both barrels of the Uncanny Shotgun:
The disturbingly fluid movements punctuated by the jarring stops, the bizarre, puppet-like posturing and a facial expression that says, "I'm a hip, young, urban professional that hungers for the lives of your babies," creep us out exponentially.
And that's all before she starts rapping. Yes, apparently, she raps. Because everybody knows that sudden, unexpected free-styling in casual social situations is a surefire way to set even the most anxious soul at ease.
We honestly don't know what could possibly make us more uncomfortable than an Asian girl poorly rapping in response to an innocent question, but Japan does: An Asian tranny robot that looks like it want to eat human children in response to an innocent question.
WD-2 is a shape-shifting "Face-Bot" meant to simulate the subtle intricacies and nuances of human facial expressions. It operates under the theory that there are 17 key points of mobility in the human face, and that by lending greater versatility to these points, a robot can perfectly mimic the ever-changing expressions of the human face without appearing unnatural or disconcerting. The robot provokes a more human level of interaction by "driving a motorized shaft into the face and twisting at the desired point to create a convincing emotional response."
One can only hope, desperately, that they mean the shaft is driven into the robot's face, and not yours.
Why It's So, So Creepy
Watching a convincing mock-up of a human face shift bone structure, shape and size rapidly totally puts us at ease. It looks like there are dozens of small creatures burrowing just beneath its skin, and it couldn't be happier about it!
In addition to its unsettlingly convincing facial expressions, the WD-2 also features cold, dead eye-sockets, a sickly, inhuman paleness, and just a bit of a knowing smirk. For other examples of things sporting these features, please see every supernatural villain ever created:
But it actually gets worse from here! You see, the WD-2 not only mimics facial expressions, it also mimics specific faces. There is a 3-D scanner and projector located in the rear of the machine that copies the texture, skin tone and even hair style of people watching it. This data is then projected onto the face up front, which has since reconfigured itself to match the overall shape of your head.
After this process, the robot can then match your every movement on the fly--while speaking, laughing, yelling--anything. To put it more succinctly:
THIS ROBOT STEALS YOUR FUCKING FACE.
The CB2 is another project developed by the human-hating Professor Ishiguro at the Science and Technology Department of Japan's Osaka University. It's a 4-foot-tall, 100-pound baby with the physical and intellectual abilities of a 2-year-old. It was built with cameras for sight, microphones and speakers for speech and hearing, and over 200 tactile sensors to simulate a sense of touch and feeling. It was designed to ... facilitate human understanding ... of ... no, come on, what the fuck could this thing possibly be designed for?
There are zero practical uses, and the only thing it can teach you is acute horror. This robot was designed to say only one thing: Fuck you rest of the civilized world, love Japan.
Why It's So, So Creepy
It's a giant baby with the power of a robot.
Every single letter of that sentence is horrific. It looks like you defrosted a frozen infant in the microwave and then forgot about it for a few days. It has disproportionately giant, black eyes, like a shark. It has gray, baggy skin that hangs flaccidly from its bulging form, like a decomposing corpse.
It speaks in a cooing, infantile voice, asking you for love and attention and thanks to its advanced tactile, audio and visual sensors, it can stumble across the room after you if you don't respond. And here's Professor Ishiguro's research assistant, poking it in the Goddamn face again.
Listen, kid, we know you're probably an unpaid intern just trying to get some kicks out of an otherwise shitty situation, but could you just stop provoking the terrifying robots?
These things are built to respond to outside stimuli, and you do nothing but piss them off all day. If you don't heed our advice right quick, you may find yourself standing in a darkened lab, the other assistants having long since left for the day. The fluorescent lights in the hallway spill a wan illumination across the tile floors. You've forgotten your keys--again. You've been particularly absent minded lately. A blue light shines in the darkness. Ah, you've even forgotten to shut off the robots! You start towards the light, making your way by feel in the pale dusk of the dim office, but the light is gone. Or no ... it's just off to the left now. You locked the robots in the supply cage, didn't you? The light is closer now. You make out a form in the darkness, small and indistinct.
"Daddy," it coos. "Love me!"
Oh, it's just the CB2. You must've left the latch open. You really need to start getting more sleep.
"CB2, deactivate." Your voice seems unusually flat in this empty room.
"Daddy, love me!" It takes another staggering step forward.
"CB2 ... deactivate!" What's going on? Is the voice recognition software failing?
"Daddy ... LOVE ME!" The steps are quickening now, you turn to back away but another silhouette blocks the door behind you.
"Who's there? Oh! Professor, thank God! I think something's wrong with the CB2! Professor? Profe--"
"Oh no! No! This ... this can't be happening!"
"Stay back! Please, stay back! NO! NOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"
"A-ow ... ow, hey! Fuck! Ah, ow, stop! Stop, ow, quit ... QUIT POKING MY FACE!"
You can find more of Robert's stuff at IFightRobots.com.
If you liked that, check out Robert's look at five less-creepy robots that are nevertheless total assholes. Or enjoy his guest column from his blog I Fight Robots (noticing a man vs. machine theme in Robert's work?) that takes you through 5 Reasons GTA IV Is The Worst Great Game Ever Made.