What Is The Future for Humanoid Robotics?

By Hubert Yoshida posted 08-26-2019 16:20

Today, as we are working in an age of technical innovations such as robotics, AI, and regenerative medicine, I am reminded of a science fiction film that I saw in 1982. That film was set in the future Los Angeles of 2019, which happens to be this year. According to that film, robotics would have advanced to a stage where we would have synthetic humans known as replicants who are bio-engineered to work on off-world colonies. Fortunately, the state of robotics has not advanced to that stage in 2019. I say fortunately since this film is a rather dark movie. A scene from that film below shows a Los Angeles with flying cars. Unfortunately PAN AM no longer exists.

By now most people reading this post who are over 40 would have recognized this film as Blade Runner.

If you recall the film, a fugitive group of Nexus-6 replicants escapes back to Earth, and a cop known as a Blade Runner is assigned to track them down and retire (kill) them. In order to distinguish replicants from humans a Voight-Kampff test is administered to evaluate their emotional response to questions. The blade runner tests this on Rachel, who is an experimental Nexus-7 replicant who has been given false memories to provide an emotional "cushion” to pass the test, but the test results lead the Blade runner to conclude that she is a replicant who believes she is human.

Later Rachel disappears from the laboratory after it is revealed to her that she is actually a replicant and not a human.  The Blade runner is tasked to retire her as well, but he begins to fall in love with her. This is where you will need to see the movie on Netflix to see what happens next.

Having robots that look and act like humans raises a lot of ethical concerns. When robots look like humans, we begin to imbue that robot with human emotions and relationships which might not be healthy or beneficial for humans that interact with them. Hitachi is working on improving their humanoid robot that is called EMIEW 3. This is a third generation robot with an enhanced degree of autonomy based on EMIEW and EMIEW2. A "remote brain" consisting of control functions deployed on the cloud and a robot monitoring system, forms the robotics IT platform, which combined with EMIEW3, enables support in customer and guidance services.

EMIEW (Excellent Mobility and Interactive Existence as Workmate) does not look like Rachel and would not be mistaken for the human kneeling next to it. EMIEW is a humanoid and looks very approachable and supportive but would not be confused with a human. 

However, not everyone agrees with me. Suzanne Gildert, Founder and CEO of Vancouver-based Sanctuary is quoted in an interview as saying:

“We believe that, in order to understand the human mind, we require a human form factor, because our mind uses data coming in through our senses to craft our subjective experience of the world. Therefore, if the type of data going into an AI mind doesn't match the type of data going into our own brain, that AI will never be human-like, even in principle. So to ensure that the data is human-like, the body must be human-like.”

Attached is a picture of a one of Gildert’s ultra human like Robot “Synths”

“… I can already see robots becoming more human-like. Not just in the way they think, but in the actual physical construction of them too. For example, more soft or pliable/compliant materials are being used, including biocompatible polymers. So, I think that, pretty soon, we'll be able to put robotic parts in humans, and biological parts in robots, and, in the future, it won't be "us and them"; there will be a spectrum of everything in-between.”

 Gildert expressed an interest in a technology called “extreme Life logging”. Life logging is the automatic recording, aggregation, and numerical conversion of data of people’s daily movements, sleeping patterns, and other lifestyle aspects. This has become increasingly popular for medical mobile devices to monitor and improve healthcare. Extreme Life Logging would capture every aspect of our lives like a memory that never fades. 

I was reminded of the Blade Runner film when Gildert said that she was exploring whether you can implant real human experience memories into the "mind model" of a robot. Then, over time, have that system believe that it actually experienced the event, just like Rachel. That idea is scary to me.

Of the three types of humanoid robots, which one would you select to be your personal assistant and care giver robot?




08-26-2019 21:29

I am a fan of Gemma Chan since C. R. A. Interesting to read about how she had to go to Synth school to learn how to act like a robot for her role as Mia. However, if I had to choose a personal assistance robot, I would still choose EMIEW over Mia. Less complicated. You can see how humanoid robots that look so much like humans can be a problem.

08-26-2019 18:09

Can I select Gemma Chan as Mia from the BBC series Humans?