For the past few months, I’ve really been trying to kick my addiction to Creepy Talking Robots. I’ve been writing about them less, thinking about them less, and spending less time watching videos of them—those long-haired, talking gynoids with full lips and sweet, sweet smiles. But, try as I might, I can’t seem to escape the Siren Song of Creepy Talking Robots.
Just the other day—as I was checking my mail and collecting my magazines—I came across the following headline: “Which Is the Robot?”Below those words was a photograph of a young woman locking eyes with a Creepy Talking Robot and a few lines about what has become my latest obsession: Android Repliee Q2.
The creation of Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University, Repliee Q2—a comely, though somewhat matronly looking, robot with straight brown hair and a slim figure—is essentially an upgraded version of its predecessor, Repliee Q1. Both models feature “skin” made of silicone, urethane insides, and, of course, the ability to speak and interact with humans. Repliee Q2 boasts a more humanlike face and has more degrees of freedom to aid in the formation of facial expressions and mouth shapes.
A quick search of YouTube will yield many clips of Repliee Q2 in action, including one in which a young man taps her rudely on the shoulder. To this, she turns and responds, “Hey, what’s your problem?” Another clip shows Repliee Q2 interviewing a man—and while their conversation is in Japanese, her interactions appear disturbingly humanlike. She gestures, blinks, and even appears to draw breath. Her eyes dart back and forth. And when she speaks, you might—just for a few moments—think she is human.
If Repliee Q2 isn’t enough for you, the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory Web site (www.is.sys.es.osaka-u.ac.jp/index.en.html) reveals a veritable army of robots—some speech-enabled, some mute, and all vaguely terrifying. There is EVELIEE-P1 (an interactive humanoid), Robovie-M (a small humanoid), and a lot more. The site even includes videos and photos of androids in different stages of completion: with and without skin, dressed and undressed.
I should probably add that, after discovering Repliee Q2, I made an impassioned appeal to my editor about getting her for SpeechTEK 2009. “She could greet attendees at the door,” I said. “She could hand out the agendas, lead a breakout session, or deliver a keynote.” Sadly, my editor just sighed, shook his head, and waved me out of his office. Maybe next year.