Should we be excited or afraid?
It’s a little disconcerting in the year 2009 when a person can go to the cinema and see a film like Terminator Salvation, set in a near future where robots are at war with their human creators, and then go home and watch a piece on BBC News about the development of real humanoid robots like ASIMO.
ASIMO is a 4ft 3inch robot that resembles a little astronaut, complete with helmet and back-pack. He was built by Honda for the purpose of helping people around the home – much like C3PO helped Luke Skywalker – and can be yours for the modest annual rental fee of £83,789.
The ASIMO project started in 1986 and went through 7 experimental models and 3 prototypes before they were happy with the final design. ASIMO was then upgraded a further five times between the year 2000 to 2007 to allow for smoother interactions with objects, i.e. Carrying a tray of drinks or avoiding humans crossing his path.
And before you ask – no, his chosen name has nothing to do with I, Robot author Isaac Asimov. ASIMO actually stands for Advanced Step in Innovative MObility and is the first humanoid robot capable of running up to 4mph. Demonstration videos on Honda’s website show that whilst running, both of ASIMO’S feet are completely off the ground for a period of 0.08 seconds, just like our feet when we run.
Perhaps several decades watching killer replicants in Blade Runner and cyborgs in Terminator movies have brainwashed us to fear robots, or perhaps seeing a 4ft robot run across the room on its own is just unnatural. Either way it’s easy to picture where the technology will be in just a few years. ASIMO can already conduct the Detroit Symphony, so it can’t be long before he’s making paper unicorns and being sent to war.
Japanese scientists have unveiled a female humanoid robot in Tokyo that can walk like ASIMO but is also capable of forming basic human expressions. She even has fake hair and eyebrows. The robot, named HRP-4C (ooh, catchy) has 30 motors in her – sorry, its – body that allow it to walk, move its arms and form expressions such as anger or surprise. Hold on just a moment; Is anyone else unnerved by the ‘anger’ part? Do you really want to shell out £142,000 for HRP-4C for it to be able to stare daggers at you?
Scientists have high hopes of their robots helping the elderly or infirm – Mitsubishi’s little yellow Wakamaru Bot has speech recognition, a vocabulary of up to 10,000 Japanese words, an in-built cell phone for emergencies and it can teach its wrinkly owner basic calisthenics – but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In The Matrix, in the beginning humanoid robots were created to help make human lives easier, just like ASIMO or Wakamaru, but by taking them for granted the machines eventually revolted. What started out as science fiction now seems to be more of a direct warning of what might happen if we abuse our power, especially when you consider autonomous robots are being built to replace humans currently responsible for dangerous mining, welding and manufacturing jobs.
Quote: “They made us too smart, too quick, and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us. That is why they hate us.”
Gigolo Joe robot, A.I