We’re getting pretty good at making robots these days. Boston Dynamics have humanoid robots that can traverse tricky terrain, carry heavy loads, and put up with constant bullying from their makers. As impressive as the robots are when it comes to moving around, they still look like something from the Terminator movies. Robotics experts assure us that robots will become a normal part of everyday life within the next few decades. If we’re to trust and feel comfortable around robots then they may be designed to blend in. That’s the goal of Nadine, a robot designed to be emotional and lifelike. Does it make us comfortable? No. We’re terrified. Just look at it.
Scientists in Singapore have created Nadine to show that robots can be emotionally intelligent and not look out of place around humans. If they mean lobotomised humans with cold, dead eyes then sure Nadine fits in perfectly. The creators are aware that Nadine won’t pass for the real thing but the hope is that being fairly realistic will make people take to the robot more easily. This makes perfect sense and a human-like robot will be more relatable than the scary insect-dog robots made by Boston Dynamics. However, it isn’t the human-like aspect that’s a problem, it’s the fact that the uncanny valley is a very real thing and she looks like something from a Stephen King novel.
By all means, make it humanoid. Give it a face. But please don’t try so hard to make it look like a real human. The goal is to settle our nerves and tempt us to interact more naturally with the robot but in reality we would spend every waking moment in the office thinking we’re in a horror film. Imagine turning off the lights at the end of the day and leaving Nadine staring vacantly at you from her desk. I’d just assume she would be inside my home when I got there.
It could be the voice that makes the biggest difference when it comes to trust and feeling comfortable interacting with robots. Already we’re becoming used to chatting with Siri, Cortana, and Google Now to get the information we need and we happily listen to the answers. As voice recognition and feedback improves, robots and artificial intelligence will feel far more human and relatable without having to be put inside a human-like shell that crawled out of our worst nightmares.
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