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How Close Are We to Making Humanoid Robots?

Written by Science

Robotics is progressing rapidly, and it’s scary. The future of Robotics even more so. It is often the fantasy of many writers, to depict a not-too-distant future dystopia. One where Artificial Intelligence and Robotics have progressed far enough to exactly mimic and impersonate a human, and ultimately exact vengeance on their human subordinates. But how far away really is this technology? Is it right around the corner – or hundreds of years away?

The “uncanny valley” describes the psychological barrier an object – be it sculpture, doll, or robot – must cross before it can be accepted as sufficiently human. This is fundamentally one of the biggest problems that will always plague any robot aspiring to be considered or mistaken for a human, it must imitate human likeness perfectly. Anything less than perfect and we will (as humans) immediately suspect that something is not quite right.

For our robots to start appearing as a human, we must first cross some creepy and downright unnerving stages.

When an object is designed to resemble a human but is still obviously not one of “us,” then our brains accept it on those terms (think of the beloved cartoons and puppets from your childhood). However, as an object inches towards a naturalistic human form, any small non-human deviation can be unsettling (that’s why clowns in full make-up, porcelain dolls, and zombies are horror movie tropes – they resemble us, but they’re just slightly off).

For our robots to start appearing as a human, we must first cross some creepy and downright unnerving stages. And deep down in the hellish depths of this “uncanny valley” is where our humanoid robot technology currently resides.

If we consider the human body as a system, then the two main sub-systems that it is comprised of are the body and the mind. For our humanoids, this equates to the Mechanics that form the body, and the Artificial Intelligence for the mind.

While we do possess the technology to recreate the mechanical likeness of a human, we are still in the infant stages. Where the mechanical robots appear as obvious robots, slow, bulky and uncoordinated. Anything that tries to apply a human skin-like appearance to this is nothing short of horrifying at this stage.

 I wouldn’t start to panic about military grade porn bots walking amongst us yet.

This is an extremely progressive industry, however, as the field of prosthetics, military drone applications, and (unsurprisingly enough) the porn industry drive the revolution of this field. I wouldn’t start to panic about military grade porn bots walking amongst us yet.

Leading multi-billion dollar companies like Apple and Samsung struggle to keep your phone alive for a full work day; powering your life-size humanoid vibrator is another issue we are yet to cross. Battery technology is currently lagging decades behind our smart everything technology.

As for the mind, have you ever wondered what consciousness even is? Well if you have, you’re not alone. Curiously enough, nothing in modern science can accurately explain it. So how do we begin to replicate something when we’re not even sure what it is? We don’t really.

Technological Singularity: the hypothesised emergence of artificial superintelligence

Technological Singularity: the hypothesised emergence of artificial superintelligence

For our AI to actually be intelligent, we must start from the ground up, where we build a database on what absolutely everything in the world is, its purpose and characteristics. And on top of this establish the AI through machine learning techniques such as “deep learning,” a kind of trial and error, where the machine learns how things work and come together.

But through this, AI is a mistaken phrase. It is still just a bunch of deterministic rules: that is simulated intelligence. Not true conscious thinking. And even this technology is still way off.

So, given the current state of things, unless you’re a creepy looking sex-bot that produces a loud noise from the power generator that you’re permanently attached to and repeatedly says “Pardon, I didn’t quite understand you”, you and your family have nothing to worry about.

Last modified: 26th October 2017

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