Speech Technology Magazine

 

Overheard/Underheard

Under-the-radar speech news
By Adam Boretz - Posted May 1, 2009
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Anyone familiar with the exquisite highs and heartbreaking lows inherent in the World of Creepy Talking Robots knows one thing to be true: Just when you thought the talking robots couldn’t get any creepier, they do.  

With each passing month, Creepy Talking Robots come and Creepy Talking Robots go—each one more disturbing and borderline pornographic than the last—in an endless ebb and flow of robotic voices, wires, plastic mouths, and unsettling technology.

Ask any industry analyst and you’ll likely hear the same refrain: “They will never stop making Creepy Talking Robots. The potential is infinite, the market is insatiable, the possibilities are limitless, and the technology will just keep getting creepier and creepier.”

There is no denying that this view of the Creepy Talking Robot market has always proved correct. That was until now.

In what might truly be the Creepy Talking Robot apotheosis, researchers from Japan’s Osaka University Graduate School of Engineering unveiled a talking robot that mimics the behavior and speech of a human toddler: It raises its eyebrows, rocks back and forth, stares blankly into space, and flails about on its back like a mutated crab.  

The robot—named “Child-robot with Biomimetic Body” or “CB2” for short—looks a little bit like Twiki from the 1970s TV show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and was apparently designed to help scientists better understand childhood development. Instead, it just makes me feel very uncomfortable, disturbed, morose, and slightly violated. 

CB2 measures 130 centimeters tall—equal to about 4-feet-3-inches (closer to the actual size of a fourth-grade boy, which only makes CB2 all the more creepy). It weighs in at 33 kilograms—about 73 pounds—and features 56 air cylinders that serve as muscles. CB2 has cameras for eyes, microphones for ears, and tactile sensors embedded in its gray silicone skin. It boasts a set of artificial vocal chords that allow it to speak baby talk.

Admittedly, CB2’s baby talk is pretty rudimentary. And while it may not impress people looking for conversation from their Creepy Talking Robots, the robotic toddler coos and grunts and barks out words—most of which sound like “ehhh-ehhh-ehhh.” Is this the most astounding use of speech technology? No. Is it the creepiest? Absolutely. 

According to the Evil Masterminds that created CB2, the robot will eventually be equipped with software allowing it to learn—something that will enable CB2 to walk—and presumably talk in complete sentences.

I’m just counting the days until I can deliver all the terrifying details about CB2’s first sentence, first monologue, first conversation, and first orders to its ruthless robot army as it prepares to destroy the human race. It’s only a matter of time.

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