Japanese Robot Creepiness

The Japanese seem to be leading the world in robotics, and in particular in attempts to develop an android — that is, a robot that possesses human features.

One of the latest ventures in that regard is the Telenoid R1, created by a professor at Osaka University.  Oddly, it is marketed as a kind of telecommunications tool.  The concept is that people will respond to the eye and head movements of the android and communicate more effectively and naturally than they would by staring at a teleconference screen of a distant conference room full of people.  It’s hard to believe that anyone would really relate to a bald, legless, armless, herky-jerky machine that looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost, but that is the professor’s hope.  (In fact, he is developing an even more bizarre hand-held device that looks like a stress-relieving squeeze toy.)  I found a video of the Telenoid R1 on YouTube, and it is pretty creepy to watch.  Wouldn’t you be embarrassed to find yourself talking earnestly to this thing?

We’re clearly moving closer and closer to android technology, but one of the big hurdles for me will be the sheer alien strangeness of a human-looking machine.  Even if the device was an animated as Max Headroom, how could you get beyond the understanding that you are talking to a bunch of nuts and bolts?

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67 thoughts on “Japanese Robot Creepiness

  1. When you talk to a human do you say you are talking to water and flesh? No. You don’t talk to the body, you talk to the person. If you someday find yourself conversing with an android you won’t be talking to the metal it’s made of, you will be talking to an intelligent computer that is capable of understanding inputs (your words) and generating output of its own (its words) similar to how humans function. The human brain is really just an advanced organic computer. Although I do agree that this particular invention is quite creepy looking 🙂

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    • Yes, well said. I think that we will be hearing more about ‘cultured machines’ rather than just ‘AI’ (or even ‘strong AI’). That’s because we have many examples of AI already–but we are beginning to breach the barrier of ‘meaningful intelligence’ in the sense that the robots can give us cultural cues of gestures, sounds, language. We’re a while away from synthetic personhood, but these simple companion ‘toys’ are a neat tottering step.

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    • I think this is all fascinating. It certainly can have place in making our lives more conveniently livable; however, like much we find in our lives that is materialistic, these things become useless until we have something else to replace it. Humans especially grow with one another when lives are engaged with communication about ourselves. That comes from having a soul and core identity from the creator. Argue all we want about that statement, it is true. Man made things, no matter how technologically advanced, cannot replace the need and feelings experienced from engaging with the soul.
      Maybe that is what creeps someone out when they realize that the exchange is coming from something that is limited and truely cannot have sincere feelings in return. To some people, this can be felt as a threat. Technology has become the father of convenience in our lives. Why do we work so hard to have the next best thing that makes our lives convenient in order to have more time for engagement with others yet we find ourselves afraid of engaging and accepting help from real people. This is unedited text; however, I think most of you get my point.

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    • Good points whimsicalasha. Our surface “look” is constantly evolving so a human-like appearance may not be that important. Just look at Pixar movies…their characters, which consist of toys, bugs, fish and cars appear more “human” than the characters in many live-action movies.

      I know these stories are minor curiosities to some, but I think what this odd little limb-less robot represents one fascinating rung on the evolutionary ladder of the beings who will likely replace us. Go ahead, myopically write it off as science fiction rubbish if you must, but how many of you read this article on a portable handheld device or use a Bluetooth device when using that same device as a phone. Of course we call this object a phone a smartphone to be exact, but it does way more than any phone. It’s more “not phone” than phone and as these devices get smaller and smaller we will see more robot-human hybrids and before you know it we will render ourselves obsolete because of our primal need to be immortal which is not unique to us. Just look at what the Monarch butterfly goes through in order to maintain its generational immortality.

      We are using platforms like this to build a network of intelligence for this. Just a thought, but like all human creations, a thought precedes the creative action.

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  2. Gaa! Just in time for Halloween! I don’t even like the robot cashiers at the supermarket – imagine if they had one of these things talking to you asking if you have any coupons. And this hand-held device – yikes!

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  3. Frightening, characteristics, of man in motion, are we to suspect the most? Just as well, a man will be able to make himself someday. We must be on day 5 of creation. This man is close to putting us on day 6. He is making us out of materials of the ground. This is a tremendous accomplishment.

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  4. The Japanese do not like to ask people for help. There is a tradition that (roughly) translates to ‘throw granny over the cliff’ and what that is, is when you are too old to take care of your self you don’t want to be a burden, so your family tosses you to your death. It’s more dignified. That is one of the basis for their robot culture. They even have dolphin robots that they put in old folks homes to cheer them up.

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  5. That robot is kinda creepy. When it started up I just about had a heart attack. But very interesting. Congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

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  6. In Japan a lot research is done with the way how we people react when being confronted by a robot with a certain design. Which movements are the most important and so on. Ver interesting indeed 🙂

    Thanks for sharing, best regards

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  7. Acai asks “Can’t we just talk to other humans? ” just after Jackson already answered “If you are lonely and have no one to talk to, you will now have a friend that is a good listener and promises not to judge you. ”

    I live alone. I talked to 8 people yesterday in the course of my day only answering simple queries. I’m not sure a robot would be better but, yes, many of us find it extremely hard to make even casual friends once we’ve reached adulthood.

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  8. Thought this might be interesting/relevant.

    “The uncanny valley is a hypothesis regarding the field of robotics. The theory holds that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s lifelikeness.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

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  9. the real problem is that these big universiy head are almost unstoppable because we give them the money or at least a nervous ok about whatever they do …because after all they KNOW WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT AND WHAT IT SHOULD BECOME … THEY ARE THE GURU OF OUR ÉVOLUTION …wE ARE JUST WATCHING AND APPLAUDING BECAUSE WE HAVE NO LABORATORIES …AH AH AH sOON THE POLICE WILL BE A THING LIKE THAT WITH AMAZING ABYSMALLY STUPID CAT EYES … NO DANGER WE DECIDE WE WANT TO BE «OURSELVESZ» WHATEVER IT IS … it IS too dangerou$

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  10. one more thing : if you decide you want to be on the moon it is ok with me , but if you are telling all my children thAt it is the only place to be … if you are telling whole continent that without it … it will be the end of this world …I have a problem with it and that’s what is happening right now or since perhaps the beginning if there was any beginning …the freedom is getting thinner and thinner and freedom will soon be called «sickness» of some sort …

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  11. This is interesting. I didnt know that I am a japanese but didnt see whats going on there about technology. Well, The the things I am proud is still technology part in Japan…

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  12. This is scary beyond belief talking to a bizarre machine, that has no possibility of truly ‘human contact’ In fact, I was discussing this with Archie only a few minutes ago. His standpoint, as a cat, is somewhat different to mine…….

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  13. Interesting that the designer’s assumption was that it’s the face, neck and shoulders that create the human connection.

    My experience as a primate indicates that HANDS carry 3/4 of the message.

    As a webcam replacement, it’s a bit of a deal-killer. It’s rather like talking to a hideously burned, mutant fetus.

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  14. This is crazy i saw this video months ago…..I saw somewhere someone had posted a video of teaching a robot how to shoot a bow and arrow and then after three tries the robot learned how to hit the arrow dead center……the Terminator Movie/Irobot movies can be closer to the truth in the future. No doubt its a scary feeling!!

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  15. This is pretty awesome, though, it IS quite creepy. I wish I knew what they were saying.
    must learn Japanese! They are the geniuses of the world. xD

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  16. Creepy indeed! Too bad there are no subtitles to the U-Tube video. If Akira Kurosawa was still living, it would have been interesting to see if he could top Spielberg’s “AI.” With respect to Spaceman’s Hairdo’s reply to your post, I did read your blog and watched the U-Tube video on my phone.

    Looks like a lot of interest in your Frankenstein and robot posts.

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  17. Looks a little like the evil man-slug thing that Craig T. Nelson vomits up in Poltergeist II. I wish it would have gotten down on the floor and crawled around. THAT would have been creepy.

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  18. I think its kind of cool! Maybe you can get it in fashionable colours to fit your interior haha
    Yes, a bit creepy but I would want one!

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  19. How is that different from talking to a computer? It’s just a machine, and yet we talk earnestly to it when it shows us our loved ones on a screen. But that’s a bit silly too if you think about it.

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  20. I guess I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist when it comes to AI, but this android is freaking me out. I don’t like the idea of humanlike technology… it just brings us closer to the day Terminator will become a reality! 😉 And we don’t know if Arnold will be back to save us! 😀

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  21. the difference between Westerner and Japanese vision about android is:
    westerner mostly portray robot technology as evil (Terminator, Frankenstein, The Matrix)
    while Japanese often dream about friendly robot (Doraemon, Astro Boy, Optimus Prime)
    ..
    Japanese try to make their passion come true.

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    • That’s an interesting perspective about culture, pratomodani. Thank you. It makes sense. I have to say though that I have enough trouble paying attention during meetings at work and this little naked thing isn’t going to help much. Perhaps if it were wearing a polo shirt and khakis…

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  22. When it is finished with prototyping they will make it look like a cute doll, I can almost assure you of that.

    As for talking to a machine, if you’ve ever had an arguement with a telephone menu system, press or say 1.

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