The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Almost Human

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Been shooting a few robots of late.

Such is the nature of the job of a freelance editorial photographer in Tokyo, where robotic technology is often considered to be leading the world.

Most recently I was the Miraikan Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, in Odaiba, Tokyo photographing the new life -like robots that are on display there.

The Otonaroid (top photo) and Kodomoroid (bottom photo) are two new androids designed to look as human as possible.

Designed and built by Osaka University professor and robotics expert, Hiroshi Ishiguro they were quite impressive for pretend humans. Indeed some have called them creepily realistic. As autonomous robot entities though I must admit I found them curiously lacking: more like super expensive telephones that are remotely controlled and change personality depending on who is operating them. Though that maybe the point of augmented-reality it seemed a bit unnecessary to go to su much trouble on something that can do so very little without direct human input, especially when realism in other animatronics is already more or less achievable.

I certainly felt that the Pepper Robot I wrote about before was a deal more impressive in its ability to interact with people from a purely artificial intelligence base and certainly, for me at least, was like communicating with something definitely not human but with which it was possible to find a connection and some recognisable character.

But as with all robotics, the technology is endlessly developing, before our eyes in many way, and these robots are for now understandably a work in progress. When devices like these can look more human and the social recognition technology in something like the Pepper Robot or the mobility of the Asimo robot can be combined with the life-like qualities of the Otonaroid we might find it more possible to cross that “uncanny valley” and, sooner than we can perhaps imagine right now, we will have proper humanoid robots “living” with us and perhaps being treated as part of the ecosystem.

I interviewed Professor Adrian Cheok when he was in Tokyo a while ago about this technology and how he sees the future developing. Professor  Cheok is a leading expert in haptics and robotics and I wrote about his ideas in an article that you can read on my blog here 

One interesting thing Professor Cheok mentioned during that interview (though it didn’t fit in the article) is how this technology is already having effects on our lives. He gave me an example of the way that we will have to deal with new perceptions of reality when these sorts of machines become more common and usual. Professor Ishiguro has been famous for making lifelike robot for a number of years. His most famous creation, previously, was a robot head that was modelled on himself.  Of course unlike people robots do not age and Professor Cheok found it interesting for the future of robot-human relationships, and the way we deal with this unknowable new reality, that Professor Ishiguro, as he ages, is now taking measures to look more like his artificial doppelgänger. Even going as far as having plastic surgery.

We are going to have some interesting times ahead I think.

More images of robotics in Japan available at my archive site here





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