AI News, Hiroshi Ishiguro: The Man Who Made a Copy of Himself

Hiroshi Ishiguro: The Man Who Made a Copy of Himself

Ishiguro constructed his mechanical doppelgänger using silicone rubber, pneumatic actuators, powerful electronics, and hair from his own scalp.

The robot, like the original, has a thin frame, a large head, furrowed brows, and piercing eyes that, as one observer put it, “seem on the verge of emitting laser beams.” The android is fixed in a sitting posture, so it can’t walk out of the lab and go fetch groceries.

Ishiguro controls this robot remotely, through his computer, using a microphone to capture his voice and a camera to track his face and head movements.

The hope is that robots will one day help people with a multitude of tasks—they’ll do household chores, care for the elderly, assist with physical therapy, monitor the sick at hospitals, teach classes, serve cappuccinos at Starbucks, you name it.

By building humanlike robots Ishiguro hopes to decipher what the Japanese call sonzaikan—the feeling of being in the presence of a human being.

Attentive viewers will notice that Ishiguro and the Geminoid have cameo roles, appearing in a TV news report on the rapid progress of “robotic surrogacy.” Ishiguro’s surrogate doesn’t have sensing and actuation capabilities as sophisticated as those in the movie.

But even this relatively simple android is giving Ishiguro great insight into how our brains work when we come face to face with a machine that looks like a person.

“Like all Dr. Frankensteins of literature, he’s raising some deep, powerful questions about our humanity and our creations, and it’s scary, but it’s also important that we confront these questions, and he’s doing that not in the realm of fiction but in the laboratory,” says IEEE Fellow Ken Goldberg, a robotics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ishiguro is wearing aviator sunglasses, black polyester pants, a black vest on top of a black shirt, along with a black belt, socks, and shoes.

He works at four labs, oversees some 50 students, is a cofounder of a robotics start-up, and constantly travels to conferences around the world.

That includes manufacturing robots, palletizing robots, surgical robots, bomb-disposal robots, milking robots, meat-handling robots, underwater and aerial robots, some 4 million home vacuum cleaners, and one that cleans the Louvre’s glass pyramid.

Though nobody knows yet what types of robots will become major applications (roboticists avoid the term “killer app,” understandably), they may soon be among us.

One researcher, who asked not to be named because he collaborates with institutions with which Ishiguro is affiliated, says the Geminoid is “not very convincing—and a bit creepy.” In some demonstrations, he notes, the android barely moves its eyes and lips, appearing catatonic.

He’s also well aware that, although people might better connect with a robot when it resembles another human being, when it gets the nuances wrong it may seem more like a zombie or an animated corpse.

The Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori called this descent into creepiness, as lifelike appearance is approached but not attained, the “uncanny valley.” Ishiguro says the possibility that his creations might result in revulsion won’t stop him from “trying to build the robots of the future as I imagine them.” He is convinced that human-looking robots are a natural interface for humans to interact with and that the uncanny valley idea may be too simplistic to explain people’s reactions to robots.

The android has long golden-brown hair, glossy lips, perfect skin, and 42 pneumatic actuators embedded in her petite body.

“Androids can press our Darwinian buttons—they are perfect tools to study how our brains work.” Despite its success in many regards, this android revealed a serious problem.

For that, he figured he’d start with a copy of a real person, someone he could trust and who’d be willing to become a guinea pig in long, tedious experiments.

They improved the body-control software to generate even finer motions and developed a computer vision system to synchronize the Geminoid’s lips to the operator’s.

He also showed that the Geminoid could act as a good salesman, that children were eager to play games with it, and that pet owners were particularly skilled at detecting its nonverbal cues.

What’s more, people who know him, Ishiguro says, could experience his personality and authority: The android, though not perfect, was able to convey sonzaikan—his presence.

The exciting part about his and others’ work on androids, she adds, “is that it forces us to more fully understand human behavior at every level.” For Ishiguro, having a robot clone has practical uses as well—such as being in two places at once.

Because he is watching the robot’s lips move as he speaks and seeing its head move when he turns his own neck, Ishiguro’s brain starts to treat the robot as an extension of his own body.

Even more surprising, Ishiguro says that when other people teleoperate the Geminoid, after a while they, too, may experience the “phantom poke.” This means that an android doesn’t even have to look like you for you to think of its body as your own!

Halligan, a psychology professor at Cardiff University, in Wales, who is not involved in the Geminoid project, says the phenomenon “sounds fascinating.” He notes that a possible explanation is that humans have mirror neurons that fire both when a subject is touched and when the same subject observes another being touched, in this case on the face.

Recently, Swedish researchers showed that when presented with certain visual cues, subjects wearing head-mounted displays could experience other people’s bodies—or a mannequin’s—as their own.

Eventually, he speculates, humanlike robots will become truly integrated into society—not just for factory automation or as labor-saving devices but as replacements for someone’s physical presence.


The robot, like the original, has a thin frame, a large head, furrowed brows, and piercing eyes that, as one observer put it, seem on the verge of emitting laser beams.

Ishiguro controls this robot remotely, through his computer, using a microphone to capture his voice and a camera to track his face and head movements.

The idea of connecting a person’s brain so intimately with a remotely controlled body seems straight out of science fiction.

But even this relatively simple android is giving Ishiguro great insight into how our brains work when we come face to face with a machine that looks like a person.

Join us at the GF2045 International Congress to meet Dr. Ishiguro, see his famous geminoid, and learn more about new and amazing technologies in life extension, robotics, prosthetics and brain function from the world's leading scientists.

Hiroshi Ishiguro

Ishiguro has been listed as one of the 15 Asian Scientists To Watch by Asian Scientist Magazine on 15 May 2011.[2] Career timeline[edit] 1986.3: Graduate of University of Yamanashi 1991.3: Graduate of the Graduate School of Engineering Science at Osaka University 1994.10: Associate Professor at Kyoto University 1998.3: Visiting Fellow of University of California, San Diego 2000.4: Associate Professor of Wakayama University 2001.4: Professor of Wakayama University 2003.4: Professor of Osaka University Awards[edit] Prize for Science and Technology by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), April 2015 Best paper award at the 4th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2009), March 2009 Best paper and poster awards at the 2nd ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2007), March 2007 Best Humanoid Award (Kid size) at RoboCup 2006 (Bremen, Germany) Publications[edit] Books[edit] List at Osaka University website One of the famous book by him is to be 'Human-Robot Interaction in Social Robotics' Papers[edit] List at Osaka University website Movie appearances[edit] Mechanical Love (2007) Ishiguro and his work forms a major component of this documentary on the interrelationship between humans and robots.

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