Chillingly life-like robots are causing a storm in Japan – where their creators are about to launch them as actresses, full-size mechanical copies for pop idol fans, and clones of the dearly departed.
There is even talk that the naturalistic, even engaging, she-droids may be taken up as men as partners in the not-too-distant future.
Android Asuna was a star attraction at Tokyo Designers’ Week showcase earlier this month and she is one of a series of geminoids, as their inventor dubs them, that are ripe for commercialisation say their creator robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro.
Gobsmacked men attending the show told MailOnline that she was well made, very convincing and had a nice voice. One man joked that Asuna would make ‘a good date; a cheap date!’
From others, covering their mouths in astonishment at Asuna’s realistic skin and facial expressions, the frequent response from the public was ‘sukoi’ which translates as ‘amazing’ in English.
Asuna is so convincing that many bowed respectfully before requesting politely to take her photo or join a selfie.
Unable, for now, to use some of the advanced artificial intelligence (AI), face and voice recognition systems that some Japanese robots coming on the market now use, Asuna relies on a camera rigged behind her that is relayed to a remote human controller to give her life.
This so-called tele-presence enables Asuna to come alive, taking on the operator’s personality.
A fully independent version of the geminoid is expected in 10 years using all the above technologies to make her virtually indistinguishable from humans says Mr. Takeshi Mita, CEO of A-Lab in Tokyo, the company working with Prof. Ishiguro to make Asuna and her kind commercial.
‘We already have 20 year’s experience making androids in the lab. So in 10 years we will marry AI and life like geminoids in perfection,’ he told MailOnline.
‘We had been focusing on perfecting her skin, facial expressions, and so on, so for now Asuna is really just a head. Now we are working on her arms and torso to give very natural, fluid body language.’
Everything about Asuna’s appearance has been painstakingly honed to make her more life-like.
From the superior quality of her silicon skin to the secret animatronic muscles that move her eyes and drive her facial expressions.
Previous attempts by Ishiguro’s team had been dismissed as unconvincing and prone to what is known as the ‘Uncanny Valley syndrome’.
This is a term coined by another Japanese professor of robotics, Masahiro Mori. It describes the response of revulsion and creepiness when faced with something that looks almost, but somehow not quite, human.
As robots become as dexterous as Asuna at mimicking humanity, so the theory goes, the syndrome will erase itself.
Already Asuna and other androids from A-lab have had a taste of the limelight, appearing on stage and voicing actors lines using tele-presence.
Asuna’s next performance will be in an opera to prove her credentials as a singer. An Ishiguro geminoid is also appearing on stage in Paris now.
‘One application we have is to turn her into an international pop idol,’ says Mr. Mita.
Already Japan is in thrall to virtual idols such as Hatsune Miku, who is basically a hologram that ‘sings’ words and music created for her on a computer using ‘vocaloid’ technology.
Her tunes often outsell those sung by her flesh and blood musical rivals in Japan.
A-lab also hopes to tap into another big business in Japan – the popularity of fantasy figurines that appeal to Japan’s legions of nerdy men or ‘otaku’.
Most such dolls are just a few centimetres high and often represent an idol or a manga character often scantily clad.
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