Should we just stop worrying and learn to love the robots – why robots can be creepy (except the ones with cookies) and why we’re okay with sexbots in space

cyborgcat

cyborg or house-cat

According to Elon Musk, our future role is either cyborg or a house-cat.

Humans could lag so far behind in intelligence compared to AI that we would be reduced to the role of a pet.

“The solution that seems maybe the best one is to have an AI layer. A third digital layer that could work symbiotically [with your brain].”

And that’s the benign scenario.

Scientists have actually already begun work on a neural lace, successfully testing the concept with mice (not cats) by injecting them with a device. They hope it could be used for monitoring the brain to fight diseases, or to improve cognitive power.

Mr. Musk assures us he doesn’t want to become a house-cat.

robotic_production_line

Robots, people will take your jobs

Mercedes-Benz has been forced to trade in some of its assembly line robots for more capable humans.

Even in Japan, the world’s leaders in industrial robotics, Toyota has begun replacing some robots.

The robots simply cannot handle the pace of change and the complexity of the dizzying number of customization options.

To maintain adaptability and flexibility – the two areas where humans are still superior – Mercedes is shifting to what it calls “robot farming”. This involves equipping human workers with an array of smaller, lighter machines.

Turns out the robot apocalypse has been exaggerated – the prediction that 47% US jobs will be automated has been whittled down to 9%.

Participants in an Uncanny Valley study found the “Jules” android to be the creepist of a group of robots and androids

Participants in an Uncanny Valley study found the “Jules” android to be the creepist of a group of robots and androids

Why Life-like robots make us uncomfortable

Robots that look almost human but not quite may cause a feeling of revulsion because of the so-called “uncanny valley” phenomenon.

The theory is that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, our emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic – until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again.

Anything with a highly human-like appearance can be subject to the uncanny valley effect, but the most common examples are androids, computer game characters and life-like dolls.

Interestingly, a study found that robots were only unnerving when people thought that they had the ability to sense and experience things; robots that did not seem to possess a mind were not frightening.

And robots themselves ARE becoming increasingly lifelike. The University of Science and Technology in Hefei, China, recently unveiled Jia Jia, an attractive humanoid robot that can respond to speech and whose facial movements look natural.

Ricky Ma, a Hong Kong-based inventor, created a robot that looks a little like Scarlett Johansson. She smiles, winks and responds to compliments.

robotdogfuneral

Robot Doggie Funeral

A memorial service for AIBO robots took place at the 450-year-old Kofukuji temple in Isumi, Japan in January 2015, according to Agence France-Presse. Such robots are among the last of a product line made by Sony Corp. A group of robot dogs whose human owners had died ended up on the altar of the Buddhist temple, where a priest prayed for their souls to pass on peacefully and reunite with their owners.

AIBO owners clearly see some sort of life or soul essence in their robot dogs. Peter Kahn Jr. examined the attachment between AIBO owners and their robotic pets in a 2004 study titled “Social and Moral Relationships with Robotic Others?” By surveying the postings of AIBO owners in online forums, they found that 75 percent of owners considered AIBO as being more than a machine. As many as 60 percent of owners also thought AIBO could somehow express its thoughts. About 48 percent of owners said that AIBO had a life-like essence, and 38 percent said that AIBO had feelings.

robotaward

Robot Comrades

Peter Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, writes about U.S. soldiers forging powerful bonds with their battlefield robots in the 2009 book “Wired for War.”

In one case, a U.S. soldier risked his life to save a robot that had been damaged in Iraq; he ran more than half the length of an American football field under fire from an enemy machine gun to retrieve the machine. Such an action would have probably horrified military planners and the robot’s designers.

Some squads even held funerals for their fallen robot comrades, according to Julie Carpenter, a researcher with a Ph.D. in education from the University of Washington in Seattle. Carpenter interviewed a number of EOD squad members from every branch of the U.S. military about the relationships they forged with their robots.

When news publications publicized her research, some U.S. military personnel began sharing their own stories of military robot funerals on the website Reddit. One person mentioned a robot funeral that came complete with a 21-gun salute; an honor normally reserved for fallen human leaders and heroes.

celebrobot

Sexbots – Men and Women don’t think the same

More than two-thirds of men recruited for a sexbot study carried out by researchers at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts say they would give sex robots try. About two-thirds of women in the same study say they would not try a sex robot!

The adult human form of sex robots was followed in descending order of approval rating by “a fantasy creature,” “any recognizable life form,” “a celebrity” and “one’s current partner.” All those sex robot forms generally received an enthusiastic approval rating of more than 5 from men.

Women were not into the idea of celebrity look-alikes. Their rating dipped towards disapproval for sex robots that resembled celebrities.

One of the greatest differences in opinion came up regarding the use of sex robots for sex offenders. Women showed disapproval on average by giving an “inappropriate” rating, whereas men gave a more favorable “appropriate” rating.

On the other hand, both women and men generally agreed that using sex robots was more appropriate than hiring a human prostitute. They also agreed on sex robots being appropriate for use by disabled people and for reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

Thumbs Up for Sex Bots In Space

Men and women agreed on using sex robots to maintain a relationship between humans, to assist training for the sake of preventing sexual harassment, and in isolated environments where normal human relationships are not available. People probably won’t begrudge Mars mission astronauts or Arctic researchers their more intimate moments with future robots!

robot_inside

People Love Robots Bearing Cookies

According to Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), Serena Booth, a student concentrating in computer science, explored human trust (and a possible over-trust) of robots for her senior thesis.

She positioned Gaia, a remote-controlled wheeled robot that could talk, outside various residence halls on campus. The robot went up to different students, asking if they would let it into the dorms, which are secured with key card access only. Booth then recorded how individuals responded to the robot.

When it approached students who were alone and asked to be let inside, people helped the robot 19 percent of the time. If it approached a group of students, though, it was let into the locked dorms 71 percent of the trials.

Now, here’s the twist: The robot’s interactions were more friendly when it was carrying cookies from Insomnia. Booth outfitted the robot with the cookies, making it look like it was the delivery method for a fake startup she named “RobotGrub.” And when the cookie-adorned robot approached people outside of dorms, people swiped it into the building 76 percent of the time.
“Everyone loved the robot when it was delivering cookies,” Booth explained to Harvard SEAS.

azuszenbo

Robot butlers – it’s about time

The latest robot to offer help around the home is Asus’s Zenbo, which, at $599 (£410), costs about the same as a smartphone. Designed to be a do-it-all Smarthome assistant, Zenbo can drive itself around your place, using various cameras to keep it from bumping into the walls. A touchscreen face allows it to emote, while speakers and microphones allow it to respond to voice commands and have a chat. It will control the gizmos in your home, keep an eye on older people and alert carers in case of accidents. It will even entertain the kids with a song-and-dance number.

Asus hopes that children will take to the robot, which can sing, dance, tell stories and play games, while controlling the surrounding environment, including the lights, for a bit more novelty. For adults, Asus is pitching Zenbo as a moving Amazon Echo or Google Home competitor, capable of taking control of various internet of things devices, from televisions to thermostats.

Only SoftBank’s Pepper robot, which is currently available in Japan costing 198,000 yen (£1,220), is close to what Asus is looking to offer, with articulated arms, cameras and sensors in a head and a screen on its chest.

They can educate, entertain and work in customer service at banks, and as hotel receptionists, but as sexual partners, they are strictly off limits! That is the somewhat bizarre warning issued by SoftBank. In its user agreement, SoftBank states: “The policy owner must not perform any sexual act” on the robot or engage in “other indecent behaviour”.

hitchbot

Why Robots shouldn’t Hitchhike

Hitchbot – a hitchhiking robot – was pronounced “dead” after it was attacked by vandals while attempting to cross the US.

Hitchbot was made from a modified bucket, and had an LED-powered smiling face. The drifting device was easily identifiable with its blue arms and legs, complimented by yellow wellington boots and gloves.

The robot, which had a GPS enabling fans to track its progress online, had set out from Massachusetts on 17 July last year as part of an art project-cum-scientific experiment. Hitchbot had drawn up a bucket-list of preferred cities and experiences and relied on strangers to transport him westwards.

Hitchbot had become an internet celebrity prior to its death, with tens of thousands of people following its adventures through social media. Fans might find some comfort in the fact that Hitchbot did a lot in its short life – including a boat ride off the coast of Massachusetts and a visit to Times Square in New York City.

PARO

Robots In Therapy

More and more people are using robots for companionship and therapy. PARO, which comes in the form of a cute baby white seal, is designed for patients who could benefit from animal-assisted therapy. It has the ability to “learn” and remember its own name. It can learn the behavior that results in a pleasing stroking response and repeats it. If you hit it because it did something you didn’t like, PARO will remember not to do that action again.

You may have seen PARO in the Netflix TV show “Master of None”. The robot was introduced at the beginning of “Old People” as Arnold’s (Eric Wareheim) grandfather’s robotic pet.

There are over 3,000 PARO seals worldwide, the vast majority in Japan where they have even been used to befriend earthquake survivors.

Google-Vehicle-prototype

Trust and the single robot

Researchers are feverishly working on the problem of getting humans to trust robots. Google and other companies building driverless vehicles are designing self-driving cars’ appearances to make it as cuddly looking as possible.

Behavioral scientists at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands tested virtual avatars with faces for self-driving cars as a way to win the trust of human passengers.

Can we trust robots?

We and our machines are certainly on the cusp of a new relationship. In the not-so-distant future, we will trust robotic systems to drive a car, perform surgery, and choose when to apply lethal force in a war zone.

Whatever happens, what’s certain is that it’s complicated and robots- and humans- can’t just be bulldozed into being just subservient butlers or lethal killing machines.

Pet cats, though, maybe. Meow.

Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.