Uncanny valley: “Used in reference to the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it.” At one edge of the precipice you have humanoid robots that still look like machines. On the opposite side are robots that are indistinguishable from healthy human beings. In the valley are all forms of humanoids that just don’t look right, but not for a lack of trying.
United Kingdom startup Engineered Arts (EA; not to be confused with Electronic Arts) has been manufacturing humanoid robots since 2005, but its creations have come a long way since its early robotic puppets. Its latest, dubbed Ameca, indeed enters the uncanny valley. The robot uses AI to give the robot natural-looking human facial expressions.
Ameca does not have AI built into it. Essentially it’s a realistic bust that companies can program to create natural human expressions for promotions, movies, or whatever they can imagine (above). While it does incorporate facial gestures and hand movements, it cannot walk or talk.
The project builds on its previous humanoid robot Mesmer, which EA built to mimic humans. Think of Mesmer as a puppet that EA can fit with the face of any model and can be operated remotely (below).
It’s hard to tell which creation is more unsettling. Mesmer has a more human appearance, but the facial gestures are more mechanical than Ameca’s. In my opinion, I would say Mesmer is on the downslope, and Ameca is on the upslope of the uncanny valley.
Regardless of where the two reside on the scale, they are prime examples of where robotics and AI are headed. We are not that far from having working androids similar to those we have seen on countless television shows and movies.
Although, Ameca cannot currently walk, Engineering Arts wants its bots to be ambulatory eventually. The company’s vision might be closer than we think, considering the work Boston Dynamics has done in this area.
What are your thoughts? If they were affordable, would you entertain owning a lifelike robot to keep you company or do your dishes, or does the whole thing too creepy?