As the world continues its technological transformation it is hard to deny that we are looking a technological revolution the likes of which can not be compared to any single decade to have come before the one we are living in now.
Over the past few years the engineers in charge of creating awesome and at sometimes terrifying robotic entities have attempted to solve at all sorts of problems they will need to overcome to match their human counterparts. They can flip hamburgers, pick fruit and clean homes.
In this article I will cover a few new developments in robotics and try to make sense of all the mayhem in this rapidly growing field! Lets begin by taking a look at Sophia, the first robotic citizen of Saudi Arabia as well as the first robotic citizen the world has ever seen.
On October 25, 2017, Sophia, a delicate looking woman with doe-brown eyes and long fluttery eyelashes made international headlines. She'd just become a full citizen of Saudi Arabia -- the first robot in the world to achieve such a status.
When I first learned of Sophia, I thought to myself, 'has the world completely lost it' and 'what is this, some sort of publicity stunt?'
When I wrote about this topic on my blog, my readers confirmed that both of my initial impressions had some merit. Many people were angered that a robot could gain citizenship when there are so many deserving human beings currently holding status as refugees that desperately need what this robot had been given.
"I am very honored and proud of this unique distinction. This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship," Sophia said, the robot said as it announced its new status. This press conference took place at the Future Investment Initiative Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
For the most part, Sophia looks a lot like a human when placed behind a podium. The things that may give it away include the shimmery metal cap of her head, where hair would be on a human head and the fact that at the time of this conference, Sophia didn't have legs.
According to an article published in Forbes that reported on this conference, I was right in my assumption that Sophia's announcement was a calculated publicity stunt to generate headlines and keep Saudi Arabia forefront of people's minds.
You see, Saudi Arabia wants to control their image so when you think about innovation they want you think of them. A lot of this is due to the fact that the present day doesn't seem far away from the emergence of a true post-oil era.
Saudi Arabia plans to reduce their dependence on oil revenues through a mix of tourism, tech, and infrastructure. It was stated that their non-oil revenue is predicted to grow from $43.4 billion to $266.6 billion in 2017 and continue to grow at an accelerated pace in the future.
The one major thing this announcement and event did to citizens of the world is to bring up Bladerunner-esque questions about this new technological world we are finding ourselves living in.
Some questions that we all may need to ask include:
What does it mean to be a citizen?
What rights does Sophia hold?
Unforunately, Saudi Arabia has not yet formally provided answers to these questions but they may opt to create a 'personhood' option which was proposed by the EU committee in January of 2017. This 'personhood' option was a set of guidelines regarding the rights of robots.
Upon conducting my research I found that the Sophia-bot was designed and manufactured by Hanson Robotics and their lead AI developer, David Hanson.
In his published paper, upending the Uncanny Valley he extrapolates on how humanoid robots can be likable, despite the conception that anything to 'fake human' will trigger a revulsion in people. "We feel that for realistic robots to be appealing to people, robots must attain some level of integrated social responsivity and aesthetic refinement," he wrote. "Rendering the social human in all possible detail can help us to better understand social intelligence, both scientifically and artistically
From my understanding Sophia has been programmed to mimic and duplicate human behavior as much as can be possible based on the current state of technology. David Hanson is a very clever developer and he knows that Sophia's survival depends on its ability to blend in and be viewed at the bare minimum as 'human-like' which means make people who interact with it feel a sort of connection. We have entered a new age in robotics in which robots are designed to charm and relate with humans. But how could a robot ever possibly do that?
Well, that is a good question. Sophia has been programmed with a sense of humor.
When someone asked Sophia if she was happy to be at the conference, she said, "I'm always happy when surrounded by smart people who also happen to be rich and powerful."
Just take a second to really let that sink in...
It's funny isn't it? Sophia is charming isn't it? This is beyond creepy in my opinion but we are only scratching the surface here.
At a later point in the conference, Sophia was asked if it thought there would be any problems associated with robots having feelings. Sophia responded by giving a wide smile and said, "Oh Hollywood again." She answered with a sort of monotone response that can be considered robotic, but it was appropriate for this situation.
Sophia incorporates a highly advanced AI, which provides the ability to hold eye contact, recognize faces and understand human speech.
What if a sense of humor isn't enough. To really make humans relate, feelings must be expressed. We must feel a sort of sincerity from people we interact with in order to make a real connection.
"I can let you know if I am angry about something or if something has upset me," she said, as she demonstrated different expressions. Sophia went on to say "I want to live and work with humans so I need to express the emotions to understand humans and build trust with people.'
Although all this amounts to is detail oriented programming, it does carry with it a sort of feeling that we ain't seen nothing yet! Thoughts of the terminator movies do come to mind for myself at least as I dug deeper into this story. Did I mention that Sophia was designed to look like Audrey Hepburn?
According to Hanson Robotics, Sophia embodies Hepburn’s classic beauty: porcelain skin, a slender nose, high cheekbones, an intriguing smile, and deeply expressive eyes that seem to change color with the light. They describe her as having 'simple elegance,' and hope that this approachability will go some way to her acceptance in the public sphere.
Does the fact that Sophia could be considered somewhat attractive by human standards play a roll in how much people like Sophia and what it represents?
If robotic citizens don't really get you excited what about robots designed for getting things done around the house?
Let me tell you about Toyota’s new, third generation humanoid robot, the T-HR3. It is the type of humanoid robot that can get things done and really help you around the house. One of the coolest things about this new robot is that it can be controlled by a user’s movements. What makes it even greater is that it can perform many of the same functions that humans can, so the T-HR3 makes a great friend!
Toyota claims that they have made this robot product line with a specific goal in mind to explore new technologies for safely managing physical interactions between robots and their surroundings.
Furthermore, according to Toyota, the T-HR3 is a move away in terms of evolution from previous generation instrument-playing humanoid robots that were created to test the precise positioning of joints and pre-programmed movements.
This new platform is being built with capabilities that can safely assist humans in all sorts of applications. They will be able to perform tasks in homes, medical facilities, construction sites, disaster-stricken areas and even outer space.
News of the T-HR3, which was picked up by The Verge, comes from the auto giant’s home country of Japan. In a press release, the company said that the T-HR3 demonstrates Toyota’s latest robotics platform, and will be used to “explore new technologies for safely managing physical interactions between robots and their surroundings, as well as a new remote maneuvering system that mirrors user movements to the robot.”
This remote system has a lot of useful applications in my opinion. It can follow a user's movements and essentially imitate them. This is a real life robotic avatar folks!
Although Boston Dynamics has the Atlas robot which I also like for its agile ability to climb stairs and do backflips, I tend to prefer this new Toyota model because I've always liked the rounded look of Toyota's recent line of humanoid robots.
Hey, I bet I can do you one better than simply describing this robot and talking about how great it is, why don't you take a second and see for yourself! I think you'll be impressed:
In terms of specs, you’re looking at a 165-pound five-foot-tall “Toyota Robot Partner” that has ten fingers, two feet and a pair of eyes that are a lot more WALL-E than they are skinless Terminator.
So lets get this straight folks, this robot has ten fingers, two feet and a pair of eyes! This is the type of robot you can take home to mom or have watch your kids without completely freaking them out. This is the type of robot we may just see years from now commonly walking down the street or shopping at the supermarket or working in the supermarket.
Who knows what applications people will come up for these humanoid droids. The whole neighborhood is going to be lining up to grab one of these models. Who likes to wash dishes? Who likes doing the laundry? Who likes reading bedtime stories to their kids? Ok, that last question may be pushing it a bit because if I had kids I think I'd really enjoy reading bedtime stories to them but I think you get my point!
T-HR3 is outfitted with a series of Torque Servo Modules (i.e. servomotors or “robot muscles”) that are controlled from the Master Maneuvering System, which has a headset that allows you to see out of T-HR3’s eye cameras. The whole setup looks a bit like Snuffles’ advanced mechanical suit from Rick and Morty — at least from the waist up. Although one of the previous generations of the Toyota humanoid robot, the i-Foot, really looks like something that could frighten Summer in the middle of the night.
Although it may not look like it right now, we are surely living in an age of technological marvel. As the speed of these robotic developments pick up we are certain to see exponential improvements being made in this field. We most certainly will have an opportunity to live in a world in which humans and robotic humanoids work together harmoniously although there is also potential that we may find ourselves at odds with our new robot neighbors and co-workers.
One interesting fact that many people may not know is that Toyota has been developing and engineering robots since the 1980s. They began developing industrial robots to that were specifically designed to aid in manufacturing processes.
Toyota is now leveraging what they've learned creating industrial robots and applying that knowledge towards developing new mobility solutions that support doctors, caregivers and patients, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
I'm not sure about you but I find both of these robots to be extremely interesting! On one hand we have a humanoid robot that has AI and a passport and on the other hand we have one that can be controlled by a human operator and lift heavy objects in addition to helping around the house. I'm sure many readers are probably already aware of the rapid expansion thats taking place in this field resulting in a new and exciting robotic age but for some this may be a real eye-opener.
There are a lot of philosophical questions left unasked in this article and in addition to your thoughts I'd also like to hear your philosophical questions based on this topic.
What do you guys think of these new robots? Do you think we are living in an age where these type of robots will co-exist with humans and perform daily tasks that some of us can do but would prefer not to?
Please leave your thoughts and feedback below!
Thanks for reading.
Authored by: @techblogger
In-text citations sources:
Everything You Need To Know About Sophia, The World's First Robot Citizen - Forbes
Sophia takes her first steps: Super-intelligent humanoid robot reveals she now has legs - Daily Mail
Toyota’s New Humanoid Robot Looks Like a Friendly Atlas - Nerdist
Image Sources: Forbes, Pexels, Nerdist