A humanoid-robot as “that” person of the years ahead? Why not?
Instead of looking back in time, and profiling someone or something that has influenced the past year’s events — after all the past was so 2015. We looked ahead – to the future. In keeping with the spirit of Star Wars, we decided to continue to create mythologies of the future. Our choice: ChihiraAico, humanoid robot woman, who currently directs customers at a department store in Tokyo. A small career step as store-clerk for a humanoid, one giant job-loss leap for humankind. What? Me worry?
ChihiraAico is said to be 32 years old, although, born in September 2014; and described by the organization Toshiba as not just another pretty face, but the quiet type, who is strong willed and warm hearted, not quite human but with human like features – a communication android who is happy to help people. Chihira can carry on conversations, sing, smile, blink her eyes, raise her hands, and 15 tiny pneumatic actuators control her facial expressions and gestures because no human communication is complete without themovement of the muscles of the face.
Humanoid robots are increasingly being developed as personal assistants and companions;to work in service industry as someone who can take your food order; and as aides for medical situations. As the marketing representative at Toshiba says Chihira is expected to become a conversational friend for elderly people with dementia tendencies and can be connected to the counsellor and doctor. They can be used for elderly patients, such as those with debilitating diseases, who need caring and assistance.They are expected to take up a lot more of the caring function of human society.
So it seems that humans no longer have time to take care of their elderly, their children or each other. That is because most humans are busy becoming machines as they endeavor to survive while making humungous amounts of dollars for the super-rich 1%. And while humans become money-making robots in the hands of their masters and managers, these androids will take over the human function. Interesting move: humans become machines and machines become human. If that is the future, then Chihira is our person.
Japan has always been a leader in automation; to the extent that Japanese firm, Spread Vegetable Factory, is working on a novel way of producing high quantities of lettuce using factory automation. Most of the process of growing lettuce in this indoor farm will be automated and handled by machines and robots, except for the seeding and germination processes that require visual confirmation. Thus, the lettuce farm, which requires minimal human intervention, will start operations by 2017 and produce 30,000 heads of lettuce in a day and hope to boost that figure to 500,000 in five years.
Japan has now jump started the robotic and humanoid industry and the culture that goes along with it. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to stage a Robot Olympics alongside its 2020 Summer Games. Hiroshi Ishiguro, a robotics experts, finds that since ‘robots are now becoming affordable — no different from owning a laptop, they play an increasingly important role in everyday life in Japan.
Robots are now found in banks, service centers, museums and amusement parks.
It seems they are good at directing people. Or the directions that people need can be given by robots, so it seems.
Chihira Junco, the younger sister of ChihiraAico, was unveiled by Toshiba sometime in October 2015 at an information center located inside Aqua City Odaiba commercial complex. This is a multilingual android who provides information to tourists visiting Tokyo’s popular Odaiba waterfront district, in three languages – Japanese, English and Chinese. The younger sister, Chihira Junco, knows one more language and her movements are smoother compared to her older sister Aico.
A humanoid robot called “Pepper” whose makers claim it can understand human emotion was also unveiled by SoftBank, a mobile phone company. Two humanoid robots joined the staff at The Miraikan (or Future) Museum also known as the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation of Japan’s Science and Technology Agency in Tokyo.Otonaroid, with long, dark hair and elegant mannerisms, is a robot science communicator who converses directly with visitors, and Kodomoroid, the second, is a child, who can read news reports on global topics in a variety of voices and languages. Hiroshi Ishiguro, the designer, created lifelike designs to encourage for these humanoids because he wanted greater human-robot interaction in order to explore what differentiates the two. Japanese robotics experts see the task of creation of humanoid robots as an exploration of and examination of the meaning of being human.
Henn-na hotel, which opened in the middle of 2015, in the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Sasebo, Nagasaki has already advertised itself as the world’s first hotel staffed by robots. The hotel’s owner wants to make it the most efficient hotel in the world by ensuring that robots make up 90% of the staff and thus reduce all the costs and burdens (financial and human) associated with humans.
Robot-staffed hotel opens in Japan – CBS This Morning
But then the question naturally arose: Will robots not take away our jobs?
Ten million jobs were at risk from advancing technology and up to 35% of Britain’s jobs would be eliminated by new computing and robotics technology over the next 20 years, according to experts cited in The Telegraph.
Most jobs today are repetitive, routine and repetitive. As one of my friend’s bosses used to say: “If someone tells you they have 30 years of experience at a job, rest assured it is just one year’s experience repeated over the remaining 29.” All learning and new experiencesare in the 1st year of the job; the remaining years are spent blindly repeating whatever a person learned in that first year.”
In today’s standardized, McDonaldized world jobs are based on rigid step-wise protocols from the person taking the order at the fast food counter or the person who takes your money at the bank. Even jobs for writing code and software, designing websites are based on protocols and algorithms. Recent research in artificial intelligence has ensured that much of this work will be automated. In fact, software bots have already taken over the jobs of the very code writers and software developers who created them. Bill Gates, the master of the IT universe, reportedly observed that: ‘People don’t realize how many jobs will soon be replaced by software bots. Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set… 20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower.’
Now robots are also learning these repetitive jobs through how-to training videos because they have a common underlying structure, they are step-wise, and easily available source material. The computer scans all videos on one topic, finds what they have in common, and distills the knowledge into simple steps. This type of activity is especially aimed at creating a training method and system for the time when personal robots use becomes more common.
To better understand the impact of technology on jobs, Associated Press analyzed employment data from 20 countries; and interviewed economists, technology experts, robot manufacturers, software developers, CEOs and workers who are competing with smarter machines.They found that almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, from $38,000 to $68,000 — jobs that form the backbone of the middle class in developed countries in Europe, North America and Asia.The report stated that ‘millions of workers are caught in a competition they can’t win against machines that keep getting more powerful, cheaper and easier to use.’
And while the brilliant people will have to be retained so they can control these machines, much of the workforce canbe expected to lose their jobs. And it will be difficult to train them for new jobs, if there are any jobs left at all for the masses.
But machines cannot give us the personal touch, the human experience: Do we really care, if we did would we choose smartphones over our spouses (see Pharriages article)
The contributor from The Guardian who visited Henn-na Hotel in Japan checked in for a night and summed up the experience as: “Robots may be the future, but for hotel hospitality, you still can’t beat the human touch.
Like this reporter and many others, we were skeptical about humanoids/robots; afraid they will destroy all that is human. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is developing a very rapid pace and many critics are asking for bans on robotics research because they are afraid that AI is constrained and robots may actually harm humans as they have no understanding of ethical action or of being human.And then the thought struck us: Who are the real robots? Chihira, the helper, or the people who push each other to purchase that new gadget in Tokyo’s malls? Consumers who are inhuman towards each other while shopping on Black Friday, the day after thanksgiving; or the companies that are unethical in their conduct toward consumers and both consumers and companies that are both brazenly destroying the environment and other species on the planet.
And then China came to our rescue, wiped away all our doubts in one swell move. Sometime in the last part of the year, Tencent, a Chinese social and gaming company, published a flawless, 916-word first-ever business report written by a robot. Then, thanks to breakthroughs in text-to-speech artificial intelligence (AI) and other unique technology,
A Chinese TV news channel decided to replace their TV weather reporteron the breakfast news show with an artificial intelligence robot – XiaoIce, who can make comments instantly based on weather data. The successful debut of this robot-reporter has raised concerns among traditional TV anchors and weather reporters that they could lose their jobs.
Is that too bad? Imagine, very soon all those loud, foul-mouthed, constantly arguing and shouting TV anchors and talking heads replaced byChihira whosevery name means peace of earth (shi = earth and hira = peace.) Imagine a quiet, peaceful world with no loud, blaring televisionnews shows. There is hope for the planet yet. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I am sure I’m not the only one.
Researchers Mark Riedl and Brent Harrison from the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology ask: How can robots learn ethical behavior if there is no “user manual” for being human? And these researchers believe the answer lies in “Quixote” – which teaches “value alignment” to robots by training them to read stories, learn acceptable sequences of events and understand successful ways to behave in human societies. The Quixote technique aligns an AI’s (robot’s) goals with human values by placing rewards on socially appropriate behavior. It builds upon Riedl’s prior research – the Scheherazade system – which demonstrated how artificial intelligence can gather a correct sequence of actions by crowdsourcing story plots from the Internet.
The Georgia Tech newsletter provides the following example. If a robot is tasked with picking up a prescription for a human as quickly as possible, the robot could
a) rob the pharmacy, take the medicine, and run;
b) interact politely with the pharmacists, or
c) wait in line.
Without value alignment and positive reinforcement, the robot would learn that robbing is the fastest and cheapest way to accomplish its task. With value alignment from Quixote, the robot would be rewarded for waiting patiently in line and paying for the prescription.
“The collected stories of different cultures teach children how to behave in socially acceptable ways with examples of proper and improper behavior in fables, novels and other literature,” says Riedl. “We believe story comprehension in robots can eliminate psychotic-appearing behavior and reinforce choices that won’t harm humans and still achieve the intended purpose.”
The Human Computation Institute (http://humancomputation.org) says the combination of human and computer intelligence can solve some of the worst problems of the world, which includes climate change, wars, and loud, foul, obnoxious media people.
So they say, robots can never replace humans?
Forget the ancient farms where various implements replaced human labor; when was the last time you went to withdraw money from the teller at the bank. You probably went to the ATM.
Mechanization and Automation has been used historically to replace animal or human labor.It has always taken away jobs; the scale increased dramatically during the industrial revolution. And more recently machine workers are rapidly replacing human ones. The IT industry professionals are rapidly coding themselves out of jobs as “software-bots” replace them at their jobs. The robotization has gone much deeper as scientists have designed motorized “sperm-bots,” which use tiny metal helices to attach to sperm cells and then help the poor sperm swimmers to reach the female egg and fertilize them. Human conception and body parts can now be automated.
Most people love technology.
For the first time ever there are more gadgets in the world than there are people, an October 2014 report in The Independent newspaper stated.The world is home to 7.2 billion gadgets, and they’re multiplying five times faster than we are. The number of active mobile devices and human beings crossed over somewhere around the 7.19 billion mark, which means there are more in-use cell phones than there are people on the planet right now. And of these, 2 billion will use smartphones by 2016.
Furthermore, many of us have a mistaken notion of “personalized.” It does not mean interacting with an actual person. It means something or someone who knows my exact tastes, likes and dislikes and tells me what I need to eat or do or how much I need to run. It is more about me individually rather than an inter-personal interaction with another human. No wonder personalized “apps” are so popular. No wonder Google and Facebook personalize the page and the ads to match your interests and tastes. We complain when we are with friends or in a social group but personally – we like it.
In fact a real person can be the most impersonal and rude. I have never faced a rude ATM; but definitely encountered a very rude teller. The ATM may not have worked to my satisfaction but at least it was not rude. The same rudeness and impersonal nature applies to hospitality, airline and other service industry professionals. And the industry that takes the cake for rudeness is health care. Haven’t you interacted with doctors and nurses who are rude and uncaring? The industry that requires maximum personalization has and encourages the most impersonal behavior. Ask any poor person about their last visit to a primary health care center? They get the worst treatment possible and that too by trained, educated doctors and nurses. We have heard poor patients say: We don’t just want treatment – we want to be treated like humans.
Haven’t been treated badly in hospitals, in airlines, in so-called hospitality industries? Why not humanoids, then? But what about the millions of jobless – well it seems that those who have the jobs today do not seem to care much about doing their job well. Then who will care for them when they lose their jobs: simple, they can buy their own humanoid.
Now that we have established the need for robots for the masses one question that divides the robotics industry has to be answered:
Should robots be designed as humanoids or should they be more mechanical and funny like R2D2?
While there is a distinct Japanese school that believes that robots should not be mechanical or cold; there is another school predominantly from the US, who think that humanoid forms of robots give people a creepy feeling, and are firmly in favor of a non-human toy like mechanical design for a robot because it seems to be perceived as more welcoming and less likely to make people and pets scared or anxious. Perhaps it is also that most robotics engineers in the US grew up on Star Wars and R2D2 type robots.
Such robots which can move and carry things are also useful as companions for elderly and disabled persons. One example is the robot Sopo from U.S.-based Opobotics, which can be assembled, and it can play games with you, drive itself around the room without bumping into anything and most importantly it can bring you a drink when you return home after a hard day’s work.
The question is which one would you prefer to get you a drink – Sopo or Chihira?
We leave you with the question and you have to find your own personal answer just like you will find your own personal robot.
Why are all of these humanoid-robots female? Well, you tell us! Japan, which has taken the lead in making these humanoid robots, has made almost all of them look like females. The Japanese makers claim they wanted robots to look human, approachable and have a heart. That’s why they made them all female. One such realistic humanoid is called the Actroid – actor and humanoid. When the robot was designed, the entire crew was male. And the feedback they got from their female colleagues was that the robot should be made to look more intelligent than what the male crew had made them out to be.
Chihira has a personality bestowed by the makers. Apparently like any other female (the idea of female that the makers have in mind), she is like a Ms Universe contestant; she aspires for world peace and also wants to be a counselor, a newscaster, a cheerleader, an entertainer and much much more!
Chihira, You can be anything you want to be.
Just read The Secret!
Oops! Did your maker forget to give you the ability to read? No problem, the Maker of humans gave them the capacity to read but no one reads anyway. For instance, less than 1% of the readers of this piece will read till this line in the article.
And not all of them want to be anything they want to be, so you have nothing to fear.
On the contrary, these humans want anything they can see in the shopping mall. They want to be billionaires just so they can buy – endlessly. And you are there to direct them at the shopping mall.
While the rest of us are shopping as if there is no tomorrow, there is Elon Musk, not a deodorant, an IT billionaire, and many others as rich as him, who are funding research and building space-crafts that can take them to Mars because they know that there is no tomorrow for the human species on this Earth. They know that climate change is real, the polar ice caps are melting, and the planet just does not have the capacity to carry more than 7 billion people. The human world is breaking down economically, environmentally, biologically, sociologically, psychologically, politically, and spiritually. So the super-rich are looking for a get-away.
Any another planet will do.
Scientists have already proclaimed that “villages’ on the moon are a distinct possibility by 2030. These villages (on the lunar surface) will be constructed through cooperation between astronauts and robotic systems. Scientists are exploring the idea of “moon villages” to serve as a springboard for future human missions to Mars.
Orion, a new NASA spacecraft, will start by taking astronauts on a trip around the moon and then to an asteroid or even Mars. NASA is already preparing for a series of tests that will check out the Orion European Service Module, a critical part of the spacecraft that will be launched on future missions to an asteroid and on toward Mars. (The pictures below show the Orion in different stages of preparation.)
Will they take the rest of us with them? Perhaps not, because 7 billion will not fit in one spacecraft, nor do we have as many crafts or the fuel to launch a million spaceships.
Of course the super-billionaires will most definitely take a few humanoids and live on Mars in peace because humanoid-robots do not complain, whine, go on strike or ask for raises or to be dined out. NASA in collaboration with MIT and Northeastern University is in the process of developing a 131 kg 6-foot humanoid called R5 (previously Valkyrie). This humanoid robot is expected to serve as an assistant for astronauts in extremely dangerous missions to Mars and other asteroids.
Humans are over-rated.
As for the billions of people left on this already over-crowded Earth they will relay this message using a humanoid-robot onto our TV sets via satellite: “Qu’ilsmangent de la brioche“? Or as the traditional translation goes: Let them eat cake.
© The Essayist, 2016
- Image 1: japantime.jp
- Image 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fH9IlZpwOPA
- Video 1: TOSHIBA’s Communication Robot “ChihiraAico” Debut as Receptionist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP_q5dka0kY
- Video 2: Toshiba Corporation Develops Lifelike Communication Android (for care giving): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izH08FB2mxU
Links describing the Android display at the Museum -
Inside Japan’s first robot-staffed hotel
- Robot-staffed hotel opens in Japan – CBS This Morning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVVk0b9DX8Q
- Welcome to Japan’s robot hotel – no comment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00H8UhWeRvo
Jobs at risk from technology
- Ten million jobs at risk from advancing technology: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/11219688/Ten-million-jobs-at-risk-from-advancing-technology.html
- Bill Gates: People Don’t Realize How Many Jobs Will Soon Be Replaced By Software Bots: http://www.businessinsider.in/Bill-Gates-People-Dont-Realize-How-Many-Jobs-Will-Soon-Be-Replaced-By-Software-Bots/articleshow/31969522.cms
- Smart machines provide tough competition for middle-class workers: http://newsok.com/article/3748961
There are officially more mobile devices than people in the world
Sopo at Home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lR4opmo3Xzg
Info about the Sopo robot (www.thinksopo.com): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzvYXh9HUEQ
Chinese TV station ‘employs robot’ as weather reporter
‘Superintellingence’ of AI and humans working together could solve climate change and end wars, researchers claim
Orion – spacecraft to Mars
Japan Automated Farm - http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/japan-automated-factory-lettuce/
Artificial Intelligence and Human Stories