Imagine being assisted inside a museum by androids so hyper-realistic in looks and smooth in speech that they appear almost human. You only need to go to Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation to meet Kodomoroid and Otonaroid, the two lifelike androids designed to look like an adolescent girl and a woman, respectively.
Kodomoroid is the news reader android; linked to the Internet; she can read out the latest news in many languages. Perhaps the day is not far when androids like Kodomoroid can replace actors on television and even in movies. During the opening ceremony at the Tokyo museum, Kodomoroid said, ”My dream is to have my own TV show in the future.” We can think of news debates being hosted by android journalists. One good thing about android journalists is that no one can accuse them of being biased in favour of any particular political party or ideology. It is time the Indian television industry woke up to this new competition from robots.
Otonaroid, the second android at the Tokyo museum, has elegant mannerism; she can twitch eye-brows, sway head from side to side and use her hands for emphasis. Capable of conversing eloquently, she has been ‘hired’ by the museum as the science and technology communicator. She too can be a fit candidate for television. Being more versatile than Kodomoroid, she can even participate in TV debates. So the next spokesperson of the XYZ political party can be the android, hopefully not manufactured completely in Japan, as the swadeshi brigade might not like that. The androids can always be assembled in India to assuage the swadeshi sentiments.
Dr Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University, a leading robotics expert, is the creator of Kodomoroid and Otonaroid. At the ceremony marking the start of a major new exhibition, showcasing cutting-edge robotics, at the museum, he said, “Human is the most ideal medium or form that humans can easily relate to, as there are so many functions in the human brain. As technology develops, the form of many devices will be closer to that of human form.”
That the androids will make their presence felt in the television and movie industry during the next few years is beyond doubt. In fact, we already have many movies with robot protagonists. Mostly the robots have a bad rap in movies and video games: iRobot, for instance. But what if the androids were to make inroads into your home? Robots are already an inextricable part of modern living. They cook our food, clean our house, even drive our cars; if we are not noticing their existence, it is only because they don’t have a face that we can recognise.
The power of science and technology is advancing at an exponential pace due to research and development being done by many private companies around the world. The trends indicate that lifelike robots will become more versatile and common. These lifelike robots will not just change our world, but they will also expand it and lead to vast improvement in quality of our lives. Dr Hiroshi Ishiguro is, to my mind, right in saying that it will be easier for us to empathise with devices that are humanlike.