SXSW Interactive: Androids and Future Life

The future is here, and it looks a whole lot like a human

Hiroshi Ishiguro (professor at Osaka University and visiting director at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute) travels the world, speaking on the merits of a future robot-filled society, while his accompanying doppleganger rides divided into two checked bags (legs and torso) and one piece of carry-on luggage (the head).

Geminoid Ishiguro (photo by Jana Birchum)

His buddy is a geminoid, also known as a tele-operated android of an existing human. Sunday morning, Ishiguro and Geminoid Ishiguro gave the rundown on robots to a packed ballroom, and the audience couldn’t contain its excitement: Smartphones snapped pictures and videos throughout the hourlong session. The crowd rushed the stage before and after the session to take selfies with the startlingly realistic robot, and the conversational demos and video footage brought down the house. Ishiguro boldly believes a robot society is entirely plausible within 3 to 5 years, and invited everyone to stop by the Japan House to meet the geminoids and other androids in person. It’s prime time to practice your android social skills, or confront your robot fears face to face.

The intricacies of applied neuroscience and technology in a robot future are obviously complicated, but Ishiguro used humor and laymen’s terms to explain his field and vision. Humans are programmed to recognize human-like features with a minimum of two modalities – say, voice and tactile, or smell and tactile. If a robot made in our image is programmed through advanced interfaces to speak in linguistic patterns our brains can comprehend and recognition is formed. From there, it’s an unprecedented level of trust and partnership between human and robot, and the possibilities seem endless.

According to Ishiguro, who brought along several other mind-blowing ’droids, autonomous conversational robots have applications in nearly every aspect of human life. He championed the use of personal robots (some models cost as little as $2000), suggesting they can aid in functions ranging from elderly care to fashion adviser at a department store. There is potential for human-robot interactions with autistic kids and quadriplegic patients, plus uses in teaching and translating. In Japan they’re already archiving beloved individuals by designing an android in their image, and the reception has been pretty positive, according to Ishiguro. Blood and saliva hormonal tests indicate that some cuddlier versions can lower human cortisol levels; experiments in the classroom indicate Hugvies (a more visually neutral android) can improve child behavior. As technology progresses, robots are increasingly able to have intentions and desires, which of course means the psychological and ethical questions are about to roll out on a massive scale.

Hiroshi Ishiguro (far left), Courtney Goodson, and Geminoid Ishiguro (photo by Jana Birchum)

Though his talk steered more toward functionality, design, and logistics than the large range of potential implications, audience member were left with visions of a world filled with androids dancing in their heads. For better or worse.

Androids and Future Life

Sunday, March 13, Austin Convention Center

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Androids, SXSW, SXSW Interactive 2016, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Geminoid Ishiguro

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