Within the rarefied world of speech technologies lies a powerful technical substratum whose primary concern and function is the creation of "creepy talking robots."
One needn’t do much digging to uncover this strange yet alluringly wonderful world. On the contrary, these preternatural, speech-enabled cyborgs are everywhere, and in growing numbers.
My initial intention for this column was to provide a sampling of creepy talking robots—everything from the interactive humanoid robot that helps medical students make diagnoses to the robot head that realistically replicates human speech to the madcap world of speech-enabled Boe-Bots. But that was before I discovered the Holy Grail of Creepy Talking Robots: Project Aiko.
Basically, the project—billed on projectaiko.com as “when science meets beauty”—is the brainchild of software programmer and engineer Le Trung. It amounts to his effort to build a gynoid named Aiko in his basement in Canada.
Project Aiko, which represents Trung’s boyhood dream and began as an effort to help Canada’s elderly with basic household chores, has thus far produced Aiko Version 1, a rather attractive, well-dressed, bilingual robot that has garnered international attention and has been featured in The New York Times and on CNN.
To date, Aiko has cost Trung tens of thousands of dollars. Currently, he is at work on Aiko Version 2.
According to Trung’s Web site—which allows visitors to make donations to the project—Aiko combines Bio Robot Artificial Intelligence Neural System (BRAINS) software together with Trung’s own custom-designed Humanoid.
Aiko can talk and interact with humans, read books and newspapers, solve math problems, distinguish between different foods and drinks, recognize the faces of family members, and perform many other functions.
Trung provides an array of videos, photos of Aiko in various outfits, and technical specifications on the Web site. He also provides some less traditional information: Aiko’s measurements (32-23-33), a fun fact (“Aiko is the only female that I’ve known that gains weight every month, but her figure stays the same!”), and a listing of Aiko’s future duties, which include:
- “Feed me sushi;”
- “If I lie my head down on Aiko’s lap, have her clean my ears with a Q-tip;”
- “Massage my shoulders and neck;”
- “Clean the windows;”
- “Dust the shelves;” and
- “Clean my toilet.”
But despite this bevy of domestic duties that she is programmed to perform, Aiko (which means “beloved” in Japanese) is not a slave. Just ask her. In a video on cnn.com—during which Trung reveals that his creation dresses in old clothes belonging to his mother—Aiko clearly states: “No, I will not lick your foot. I am not your personal slave.”
She also says, “Please stop touching my breast, you pervert.” But Trung is no pervert. That much he makes clear on his Web site. “Yes, Aiko has sensors in her body, including her private parts (breasts, and yes, even down there). AND NO, I do not sleep with her.”