Almost human

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2008, 12:00am

Her flawless skin consists of supple, synthetic silicon jelly that feels strangely human. Her face is a fusion of two unnamed, albeit well-known, South Korean actresses. Her low-key life force stems from the interplay of 35 miniature motors scattered around her upper body - modelled after that of a mystery singer - most of which can move. For example, her dreamily intense eyes can lock with a stranger's.

She is EveR-1 (right; for 'Eve Robot'), a female android about 160cm tall and weighing 50kg, created by scientists from the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology and publicly unveiled in 2006.

Capable of aping happiness, sadness, anger and surprise, EveR-1 can recognise about 400 words and answer questions with facial expressions and utterances.

But at heart, EveR-1 is a dummy. She can do little except read books to children and guide visitors around museums and department stores.

A more advanced but less publicised model, EveR-2, measuring about 170cm tall and weighing 60kg, can emote boredom and sing like a pop idol. Her silicon-covered face and body provide a greater degree of expression, helped by 29 motors and dozens of joints. She also boasts better vision, with digital cameras for eyes based on a wide-range (90 degrees) small charge-coupled device (a light-sensing system).

Society could use a humanoid that combined the EveR sisters' booth-babe looks with life skills, namely the ability to help the less capable around the home. By the year 2020, industrialised nations will have only three workers for every senior citizen, notes William Halal - professor of science, technology and innovation at George Washington University, in the US - in his new book, Technology's Promise: Expert Knowledge on the Transformation of Business and Society. In the pension time-bomb of Japan, the rate will be two to one.

Hence, a campaign by Japanese and Korean scientists to build androids with advanced artificial intelligence and human-like reflexes. The Actroid, a humanoid robot modelled on an average Japanese woman, was introduced in 2005 by Osaka University. The so-called 'Repliee' models were manufactured by Kokoro, the animatronics unit of Hello Kitty creator Sanrio.

Halal is impressed by the advances by Japanese and Korean scientists in cybernetics. 'And I believe their claims about having robots of this type in homes and offices in a few years,' he says.

He points out it is just a matter of time before artificial intelligence approaches human-level capability. Imagine 'carebots' doing the ironing and dishes, even babysitting.

If the idea sounds fanciful, remember, robots that vacuum the carpet are already in circulation. Future home-help android adopters might find they become curiously close to their willing slaves, just as children have become attached to Sony's toy dog Aibo.



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Almost human

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