Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dating Robots

"In the course of ages we shall find ourselves the inferior race."- Samuel Butler

Artificial Intelligence, or ‘AI’, is a topic often found in science fiction books and films. Today, it has become an essential part of the technological industry. While the concept may seem modern, it has been addressed by myths, fiction and philosophy since antiquity. Here are two examples:
  • In the Greek mythology, Talos was a giant man of bronze who protected Crete. He was assembled by Zeus himself or, in other versions of the myth, by Hephaestus. This is the first recorded reference to a robot in history.
  • In a 3rd century BC text of Leizi, a mechanical engineer Yan Shi presents King Mu of the Zhou dynasty with a mechanical man, which could be taken for a real human being.
On June 13, 1863, The Press newspaper published a letter written by Samuel Butler entitled “Darwin among the machines”. The letter raised the possibility that machines could evolve “mechanical consciousness” by means of Darwinian natural selection. Looking back at that statement today, perhaps he was not as wrong as people claimed him to be.  Numerous “revolutionary” technologies failed to make an impression and faded away as swiftly as they had emerged. However, similar technologies took their place and succeeded in “surviving.”

We have obviously come a long way since 1863. Technology has evolved faster than any animal and plant species. How long do we have until robots start evolving? Wait...robots?
Sony developed a robot a few years ago the features of which included a unique motion sensor that could recognize human gestures, such as waving, and respond in an appropriate fashion. Here is a video of similar robots that were programmed to dance:

A unique piece of technology indeed. While on the topic of robots, I’d like to tackle another recent invention. In 1993, Douglas Hines designed the first sex robot, “Trudy.” However, customers’ main concern was that it was not “user friendly.” The robot had no speech or movement capabilities. After losing a close friend in the 9/11 tragedy, Douglas Hines asked himself, “wouldn’t it be great if I could create a robot with artificial intelligence and have it hold someone’s personality and preferences – this way, we could talk to the robotic version of that person and ask it questions whenever we wanted?” The project was undertaken.

The concept was implemented into the creation of the new, revolutionary, life-size sex robot. Roxxxy comes with pre-programmed personalities that the user can choose from based on his preferences, such as S&M Susan, Wild Wendy, Frigid Farah, and others. On top of that, the user will have the ability to program personalities that fit his specific needs simply by connecting to the internet on the laptop that comes with Roxxxy. Once the personality is programmed, the robot is capable of carrying on conversations. Hines, being a fan of soccer, demonstrated the robot discussing Manchester United. The user be able to talk about whatever topics interest him.

Intelligence aside, when purchasing this robot, the buyer will have the opportunity to specify its physical features, such as hair, skin and eye colour, breast size and others. The “skin” contains motion sensors in specific areas of the robot’s body that cause the robot to respond appropriately when contact is made with specific contact points. The robot is also equipped with a mechanical heart and an articulated skeleton that can move like a real person, though unable to walk.

Such an ‘interchangeable” girlfriend costs $6,500, which includes the laptop that comes with the robot. Perhaps my thoughts are a little farfetched, but I foresee a grim future. With robots that can express “love” for you, carry on conversations and participate in bedroom activities, I see humans changing their preferences in companionship. While the price is steep, people will do much to find the “perfect” companion. Imagine what these Roxxxy robots would be like with the intelligence of the Aiko fem-bot!

Such intelligence in a robot may threaten human interactions in the future and, suddenly, Butler’s statement is much more foreboding. The very concept of robot lovers seems rather absurd and, when its technology advances further, it will threaten not only interactions, but also procreation. As more people start preferring perfect mechanical companions that are programmed specifically for them, the threat to the very existence of humanity will start to grow, especially with the male version of Roxxxy in development.
That sounds to me like an amazing premise for a dystopian novel.

As an additional reference, here is the site that shows every customizable feature of the robot and the choices:

http://www.truecompanion.com/shop/products/Roxxxy_With_Subscription-2-2.html

Sunday, October 3, 2010

B.R.A.I.N.S. - A Man's Dream

"If something is perfect, then there is nothing left for us to do. There is no room for imagination, no way to gain additional knowledge or grow." - Le Trung

"It actually starts back in the 70s during my childhood where I spent a lot of time watching Japanese anime which often featured robot themes. I remember saying to myself as a child, 'I will build one of those when I grow up,'" says Le Trung on his website. While most reviewers and bloggers bash his creation and dub him a pervert for this, the 33-year-old inventor is still going strong on perfecting his fem-bot.
Aiko fem-bot (Source: Project Aiko)
Aiko, which means "beloved one" in Japanese, is a robot that Le began building in August 2007. Having spent approximately $21,000 of his own money on the project so far, he is looking to further develop Aiko, giving her even more abilities than it has now.
While it may not seem very different from other androids that are being developed today by prestigious, well-funded organizations, Aiko is very unique in its artificial intelligence. The B.R.A.I.N.S. software (Bio Robot Artificial Intelligence Neural System) that Trung himself developed is capable of object and voice recognition, as well as actually learning new 3-D objects that are not already in its database simply by observing them and listening to what they are.
 

 
Here is how it works:
"The main vision system (main left) recognizes the person’s face and facial expressions. It also identifies 3D objects. The system tracing human motion (top right) identifies any movement in light blue. Unfortunately it is difficult to see here as I inadvertently wore blue, but if examined closely, there is a light blue area around my right hand as I wave it and the right side of my body which moves with my hand. The third system (bottom right) detects the point of interest. Notice that the AI ignores the chair and anything else in the background. The AI focuses on the most important “object” in the room, in this case, me."
B.R.A.I.N.S. software. (Source: Project Aiko)
The robot can currently speak and understand over 13,000 sentences. When Aiko is connected to the Internet, it also has the capability of telling the current time, as well as local and international weather and temperature.
Aside from the abilities already mentioned above, Aiko has another very neat feature. It is capable of reading and doing math. The AI system is capable of character recognition, which is then converted to speech. As far as math goes, it will solve any complex equation written on paper, along with the used variables with their values below. The reading and math demonstration can be seen 1:50 into the video linked at the end of the blog.
Aside from the innovative AI, Aiko also has sensors all over its body, allowing the robot to respond to physical contact to the point where she can detect pain and respond accordingly. In one of the video demonstrations, Le asks Aiko to give him its hand and to tell him when it starts feeling pain. As he increases the tightness of his grip, Aiko moves its hand away from him and says, "Please let go of my arm. You are hurting me. What did you do that for?" As Le asks Aiko to give him the arm again, Aiko replies, "No. I don't want to play that game anymore. It hurts my arm."
Trung has a bright future planned for Aiko. In later versions, he plans on implementing facial expressions and ability to move around, as Aiko is currently confined to a wheelchair.
One man's dedication and imagination can go far when he puts effort into his creation. While I am critical of humanity's potential future when Artificial Intelligence is taken a step too far, I cannot help but admire the science behind Aiko and Le's unyielding dedication.

The 6 minute demonstration of Aiko's abilities can be found below.


 References

1. Trung, Le, "Project Aiko," October 3, 2010,
    <http://projectaiko.com>.