Confusion, surprise, and smile are so realistic. Why is this “most human” robot so scary?

With a snap of his fingers, the robot Ameca woke up.

Her face was filled with confusion about what eve, where and where, the staff on the side looked at her, and then turned around.

Ameca tried to stretch her arms and palms, and found that she was moving freely. She raised her eyebrows in surprise, but she was still at a loss and couldn't say whether she was happy or not.

She turned her head and saw you, she was obviously taken aback, and her mouth opened subconsciously.

After hesitating, she squeezed an awkward and friendly smile at you. This was the first smile she woke up.

Ameca, why is it so "human"?

As you can see, Ameca is a realistic humanoid robot developed by Engineered Arts, a British-based designer and manufacturer of humanoid robots with more than 15 years of experience in humanoid robot development.

Why is Ameca's expression so "human"? According to the official website, Ameca combines AI and AB (Artificial Body) technology. The underlying system is the robot operating system Tritium and the engineering art system Mesmer.

Of course, Ameca must first be equipped with a wide range of sensors, including cameras, microphones, position encoders, and smart electronic devices with thousands of parameters to ensure that it is a responsive and interactive machine.

Tritium can be run directly in the browser, applicable to almost any coding language and a variety of software. After logging in, you can quickly process various data, remotely control various components of the robot's face, head, neck, limbs, etc., so that the robot can adapt to sudden changes in the environment. Respond immediately to ensure the safety and fun of human-computer interaction.

▲ Picture from: Engineered Arts

If the robot is asked to do two different things at the same time, Tritium will resolve the conflict in a safe way and determine the priority of the action.

Mesmer accurately mimics human bone structure, skin texture and expressions through 3D internal scans of real people , which needs to be subdivided into several steps.

▲ The first step. Picture from: Engineered Arts

In the first step, a real person sits in the middle of dozens of photogrammetric devices. Mesmer captures multiple overlapping digital photos from different angles, compares the pixel colors and defines the anchor points, and digitally reconstructs them into a 3D model.

▲ Step 2. Picture from: Engineered Arts

The second step is to bring the original 3D model into the modeling software, and create a clean 3D model after detailed processing such as "removing hair".

▲ The third step. Picture from: Engineered Arts

The third step is to produce precise molds on a stereolithography 3D printer, and inject silicone into the molds to create human-like skin for the robot. Hair and fine detail paint need to be manually added to the silicone skin.

▲ The fourth step. Picture from: Engineered Arts

Finally, place the silicone skin on the robot's head to complete the assembly, and then use Engineered Arts' cloud software Virtual Robot to add motion sequences and sounds.

Engineered Arts' positioning of Ameca is:

Ameca is the perfect humanoid robot platform for human-computer interaction. We focus on bringing you innovative technologies that are reliable, modular, upgradeable and easy to develop.

In other words, Ameca is a robot with a "modular design" that will be upgraded in various aspects of hardware and software in the future. At present, it is only a starting point, with a strong color of experimentation.

▲ Picture from: Engineered Arts

Although Ameca has a realistic face, it still cannot walk, jump or parkour. Engineered Arts plans to "upgrade its abilities over time so that one day it can walk."

Ameca will be on stage at CES 2022 in January next year. According to Reuters, Ameca is now available for purchase or lease, with a purchase price of more than $133,000 .

▲ Picture from: Engineered Arts

Interestingly, Ameca's skin is gray, which seems to be deliberately rational and neutral. Morgan, Operations Director of Engineered Arts stated :

Ameca represents a perfect platform to explore how our machines can coexist, collaborate and enrich our lives in the sustainable community of the future. Ameca integrates AI and AB to provide advanced iterative technology, excellent actions and gestures, all of which are presented in human form and robot appearance, and integrate into an inclusive society in a non-threatening and gender-neutral way.

Human, but far from human

What exactly are humanoid robots like Ameca used for?

▲ Q&A on the official website. Picture from: Engineered Arts

From the official website Q&A page, Engineered Arts focuses on creating humanoid robots for entertainment. Ameca may become the center of attention for venues and activities, rather than replacing humans in all aspects:

Our innovative robots are good at performing to the audience and capturing people's hearts in various activities. For science centers, theme parks and companies hoping to attract crowds, our robots will provide visitors, delegates and audiences with unforgettable experiences.

▲ Touch screen. Picture from: Engineered Arts

The audience can directly control the robot through the touch screen at the scene, move the robot's head and eyes, change its LED and animated graphics, and choose some pre-configured postures, actions and greetings; companies can also rent in advance, Engineered Arts will make the robot for 5 minutes The content is used to promote new products or brands.

In addition to robots like Ameca, Engineered Arts also has customer service robot Quinn and speech robot RoboThespian . You can even customize your own interactive robot. No matter what it looks like, the previous examples include the giant monster Kong and the monster hunter. Jing Boran and Huba.

▲ Two interactive robots. Picture from: Engineered Arts

The latter is displayed in Madame Tussauds. They can detect people's facial expressions and change the images on the screen to match them. If someone frowns in front of the robot, thunder and lightning will appear on the screen, and Huba will imitate their angry expression.

But what these robots bring is realistic social interaction between humans and machines. What is "realistic"? It means "not exactly."

For example, Engineered Arts’ robots can directly handle the daily check-in procedures at a hotel, and when it comes to complex situations such as "gluten-free breakfast", the questioner will use a remote presentation software called TinMan to communicate with the people behind the machine. Contact, although it still seems to be talking to the robot itself.

▲ Human beings control behind the robot. Picture from: Engineered Arts

In this process, artificial intelligence will also be continuously improved through machine learning. The more questions it asks, the more it learns from real people, but real people are still indispensable. So, don't worry about the robot already having self-awareness.

The limitations of Engineered Arts robots still exist in many places.

Through automatic speech recognition , it can "hear" and convert the sound into a text string, but it cannot recognize the spoken tone or context.

Through the camera installed in the eyes of the humanoid, it can "see" and use computer vision and software called Visage to locate the face in the picture and guess the age, gender, and facial expressions, but it still cannot identify individuals.

▲ Picture from: Engineered Arts

Therefore, when asked whether Ameca is AI, Engineered Arts pointed out that although it contains some software that can be described as "AI", there is still a difference between robots and AI. Pure AI-in "She" " The kind depicted in movies like Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey-does not yet exist.

They compare their robots to electric cars:

This combination of artificial intelligence and human intelligence is hybrid intelligence. Think about electric cars. Before it was possible to have an all-electric car, half-electric and half-gasoline appeared in the 1990s. Similar things will eventually happen to AI.

▲ Picture from: Engineered Arts

When we see Ameca, this lifelike robot, we can enjoy watching it, while hiding fear and the Three Laws of Robots safely in our minds, and wait for a while. At least, it is far from replacing people, and it has no such purpose at this stage.

Friends, have you fallen into the uncanny valley?

The emergence of Ameca has also drawn attention to the "Uncanny Valley Effect". Uncanny Valley is a hypothesis about how humans feel about robots and non-human objects:

Because robots and humans are similar in appearance and actions, humans will have positive emotions on robots; when it reaches a certain level, the subtle differences between robots and humans will appear very dazzling and terrifying, and the human response will suddenly become extremely negative; when the similarity is reached As it continues to rise, human emotional responses return to positive again, producing empathy between humans.

▲ Picture from: Wikipedia

However, there is no clear definition of when this "valley" appears. When you see Ameca, do you think it has passed the uncanny valley node? Is it enough to make you empathize?

Regarding the causes of the Uncanny Valley effect, there are two main types of explanations . The first category believes that the uncanny valley effect is a physiological defense mechanism that humans gradually produce during their long survival, similar to the associations of disease, germs, and death when we see dead bodies and seriously ill patients; the second category believes that the uncanny valley effect comes from humans Of cognitive anxiety, because humanoid robots cannot be easily counted as humans, nor can they be easily counted as machines.

▲"Blade Runner". Picture from: Douban

Regardless of the angle, the core is to pay attention to the current situation of "people". We are immersed in a kind of anxiety, hoping to distinguish ourselves from others, society, and objects. "Do bionics dream of electronic sheep? In ", one of the criteria for defining bionics is the "empathy test." Regardless of whether it is actually scientific or not, it is actually looking for a definite boundary.

At the same time, we are keen to make robots look like adults. Although Engineered Arts stated that humanoid robots cannot yet replace humans, they also believe that it has the effect of "capturing people's hearts in various activities." But what is so good about humanoid robots? Why can't you have a Doraemon or Wali?

▲ "Robot Story". Picture from: Douban

If it is to improve work efficiency, creating humanoid robots does not seem to be worthwhile, it is better to create various specialized machinery or electronic equipment for human use, such as robots with long arms, multi-legged, amphibious, land, and air.

At present, this robot with the most human appearance is just for self-entertainment. It has not yet reached the horror situation in Will Smith's "Me, Robot"-intelligent robots have filled public service positions in a dystopian world. . This is often one of the places we worry most about robots.

▲"Me, Robot". Picture from: Douban

In June of this year, Professor Ishiguro Hiroshi of Osaka University established a start-up company AVITA , dedicated to the research of "dual robot remote work" to solve the problem of labor shortage. The concept is that the avatar operator sits at home, the microphone and camera on the computer read the operator’s facial expressions and movements, and reflect them on the avatar, and the avatar communicates with restaurant customers on the screen.

▲ Picture from: ATR

Ishiguro Hiroshi said: "The plan is to liberate human beings from the physical body and create a society where anyone can work freely anytime and anywhere." In his opinion, humans will feel at ease when facing robots and will not feel mentally exhausted. , The reason is that there is no need to observe words and colors.

Contrary to Ameca's prominent humanoid traits, Ishiguro actually values ​​the non-human part of "humanoid robots"-there is no need to treat robots like humans.

But the two also achieve the same goal by different routes. In addition to the exploration and thinking of many science fiction movies and novels, we have seen that many humanoid robots are useful in real life. They are still an entertainment effect produced by realistic imitation and a substitute for repetitive and emotional work. They are not yet one of us, we use them to confirm our special place.

Grapes are not the only fruit.

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