The Future is Here: First Android Newscasters in Japan

japan-android-robotsThis past week, Japanese scientists unveiled what they claim is the world’s first news-reading android. The adolescent-looking “Kodomoroid” – an amalgamation of the Japanese word “kodomo” (child) and “android”- and “Otonaroid” (“otona” meaning adult) introduced themselves at an exhibit entitled Android: What is a Human?, which is being presented at Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan).

The androids were flanked by robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro and Miraikan director Mamoru Mori. After Kodomoroid delivered news of an earthquake and an FBI raid to amazed reporters in Tokyo. She even poked fun at her creator, leading robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, “You’re starting to look like a robot!” This was followed by Otonaroid fluffing her lines when asked to introduced herself, which was followed by her excusing herself by saying, “I’m a little bit nervous.”

geminoidBoth androids will be working at Miraikan and interacting with visitors, as part of Ishiguro’s studies into human reactions to the machines. Ishiguro is well-known for his work with “geminoid”, robots that bare a frightening resemblance to their creator. As part of his lecture process, Ishiguro takes his geminoid with him when he travels and even let’s it deliver his lectures for him. During an interview with AFP, he explained the reasoning behind this latest exhibit:

This will give us important feedback as we explore the question of what is human. We want robots to become increasingly clever. We will have more and more robots in our lives in the future… This will give us important feedback as we explore the question of what is human. We want robots to become increasingly clever.

Granted the unveiling did have its share of bugs. For her part, Otonaroid looked as if she could use some rewiring before beginning her new role as the museum’s science communicator, her lips out of sync and her neck movements symptomatic of a bad night’s sleep. But Ishiguro insisted both would prove invaluable to his continued research as museum visitors get to have conversations with the ‘droids and operate them as extensions of their own body.

pepperAnd this is just one of many forays into a world where the line between robots and humans are becoming blurred. After a successful debut earlier this month, a chatty humanoid called Pepper is set to go on sale as a household companion in Japan starting next year. Designed by SoftBank, using technology acquired from French robotics company Aldebaran, and marketed as a household companion, each robot will cost around $2,000, the same cost of a laptop.

Pepper can communicate through emotion, speech or body language and it’s equipped with both mics and proximity sensors. Inside, it will be possible to install apps and upgrade the unit’s functionality, the plan being to make Pepper far smarter than when you first bought it. It already understands 4,500 Japanese words, but perhaps more impressively, Pepper can apparently read into the tone used to understand its master’s disposition.

pepperAldebaran CEO Bruno Maisonnier claims that robots that can recognize human emotion will change the way we live and communicate. And this is certainly a big step towards getting robots into our daily lives, at least if you live in Japan (the only place Pepper will be available for the time being). He also believes this is the start of a “robotic revolution” where robotic household companions that can understand and interact with their human owners will become the norm.

Hmm, a world where robots are increasingly indistinguishable from humans, can do human jobs, and are capable of understanding and mimicking our emotions. Oh, and they live in our houses too? Yeah, I’m just going to ignore the warning bells going off in my head now! And in the meantime, be sure to check out these videos of Kodomoroid and Otonaroid and Pepper being unveiled for the first time:

World’s First Android Newscasters:


Aldebaran’s Pepper:


Sources:
cnet.com, gizmodo.com, engadget.com, nydailynews.com

8 thoughts on “The Future is Here: First Android Newscasters in Japan

  1. Matt, this is a cool idea. Kudos to the Japanese for pioneering this. However, this will negatively impact their existential angst as a nation even more, don’t you think?

    I’m not sure I would want to listen to or watch an android dish out news on the latest terrorist attack or marginalization of women and other disadvantaged groups. I can also see Jimmy Fallon and Jon Stewart go to town on this though.

    1. With both barrels! And incidentally, you’re reaction is precisely what they are looking to gauge, which I think is understandable. One question: is Japan renowned for its existential angst? I mean, more than the rest of us?

  2. Interesting and sort of scary.
    Warning bells is exactly what was going through my head when I rea your post.
    One good thing about the androids reading the news is they won’t be as sickeningly saccharine as Diane Sawyer. But then again, when emotion is needed, will they be just as saccharine since they’re not really equipped with genuine human feelings?

    1. Good question. I do wonder if having them around will also simplify the whole “talking heads” phenomena. You know, where mindless drones deliver politically-slanted news like a mouthpiece instead of reporting actual facts?

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