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

Hiroshi Ishiguro: The Man Who Made a Copy of Himself

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.

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.

Are We Ready for Intimacy With Androids?

Modeled on a grown woman (a popular Tokyo newscaster) and produced with better funding, this version can move its upper body fluidly and lip-synch to recorded speech.

Besides, his daughter was too young, and the newscaster, though an adult, was, in his words, merely an “ordinary” person: Neither was able to analyze their android encounter like a trained scientist.

Here is his assistant wrapping the facsimile of his then-43-year-old face around the machine head and zipping it up the back, its bald scalp studded with sensors.

Here is the Geminoid seated upright, a padded vest in place of its torso, its mechanical biceps visible, its arms only “flesh” below the elbows, as if it were wearing elegant gloves.

Here is the machine that pumps air into its chest—a series of cables runs from its tailbone into a metal box—as the professor’s double sits at attention and speaks for the first time.

The viewer cannot help but assign an entire range of emotions to its face: melancholic (mouth downturned), upset (eyes squinted shut), skeptical (a sideways glance), pensive (the tilt of its head to the left).

Ishi­guro also begins giving lectures around the world without leaving his lab in Osaka, teleoperating and speaking through the android, which is carefully transported abroad by an assistant.

He poses beside his android, in press photos and TV appearances, in ways that accommodate the Geminoid, setting his face to mirror its expression.

(At one point at the research institute, Ishi­guro notices me photographing him in front of his android and reflexively drops his smile to match the robot at rest.) Soon his students begin comparing him to the Geminoid—“Oh, professor, you are getting old,” they tease—and Ishi­guro finds little humor in it.

“I need to be identical with my android, otherwise I’m going to lose my identity.” I think back to another photo of his first double’s construction: Its robot skull, exposed, is a sickly yellow plastic shell with openings for glassy teeth and eyeballs.

When I ask what he was thinking as he watched this replica of his own head being assembled, Ishi­guro says, perhaps only half-joking, “I thought I might have this kind of skull if I removed my face.” Now he points at me.

Hiroshi Ishiguro

A notable development of the laboratory is the Actroid, a humanoid robot with lifelike appearance and visible behaviour such as facial movements.

at the unveiling in July 2005 of the female android named Repliee Q1Expo, he was quoted as saying 'I have developed many robots before, but I soon realised the importance of its appearance.

It's very satisfying, although we obviously have a long way to go yet.'[1] In his opinion, it may be possible to build an android that is indistinguishable from a human, at least during a brief encounter.

Could you fall in love with this robot?

'Not in ways that dehumanize us, but in ways the rehumanize us, that decrease the trend of the distance between people and instead connect us with people as well as with robots.'

The key to creating robots that care about humans is giving them humanlike faces that enable them to gather data while real humans explore different applications for the technology, said Hanson.

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