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Old 03-02-2008, 10:04 AM   #1 (permalink)
Serg
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Join Date: Aug 2007
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Japan looks to a robot future (NO!)

At a university lab in a Tokyo suburb, engineering students are wiring a rubbery robot face to simulate six basic expressions: anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and disgust.



Hooked up to a database of words clustered by association, the robot dubbed Kansei, or "sensibility" responds to the word "war" by quivering in what looks like disgust and fear. It hears "love," and its pink lips smile.

"To live among people, robots need to handle complex social tasks," said project leader Junichi Takeno of Meiji University. "Robots will need to work with emotions, to understand and eventually feel them.


once the stuff of science fiction where humans and intelligent robots routinely live side by side and interact socially.


Robots are already taken for granted in Japanese factories, so much so that they are sometimes welcomed on their first day at work with Shinto religious ceremonies. Robots make sushi. Robots plant rice and tend paddies.

There are robots serving as receptionists, vacuuming office corridors, spoon-feeding the elderly. They serve tea, greet company guests and chatter away at public technology displays. Now startups are marching out robotic home helpers.


For Japan, the robotics revolution is an imperative. With more than a fifth of the population 65 or older, the country is banking on robots to replenish the work force and care for the elderly.





Still, Japan faces a vast challenge in making the leap commercially and culturally from toys, gimmicks and the experimental robots churned out by labs like Takeno's to full-blown human replacements that ordinary people can afford and use safely.





That's just what the Japanese government has been counting on. A 2007 national technology roadmap by the Trade Ministry calls for 1 million industrial robots to be installed throughout the country by 2025.



The "Child-Robot with Biomimetic Body" is designed to mimic the motions of a toddler. It responds to sounds, and sensors in its eyes can see and react to people. It wiggles, changes facial expressions, and makes gurgling sounds.

The team leader, Minoru Asada, is working on artificial intelligence software that would allow the child to "learn" as it progresses.

"Right now, it only goes, 'Ah, ah.' But as we develop its learning function, we hope it can start saying more complex sentences and moving on its own will," Asada said. "Next-generation robots need to be able to learn and develop themselves."

For Hiroshi Ishiguro, also at Osaka University, the key is to make robots that look like human beings. His Geminoid robot looks uncannily like himself down to the black, wiry hair and slight tan.

"In the end, we don't want to interact with machines or computers. We want to interact with technology in a human way so it's natural and valid to try to make robots look like us," he said.

"One day, they will live among us," Ishiguro said. "Then you'd have to ask me: 'Are you human? Or a robot?'"
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