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Here at Overheard/Underheard, we have no problem with Creepy Talking Robots (CTRs)—we love them, we report on them, we obsess about them, and as long as these speech-enabled monsters are kept locked away in the lab, we’re all safe and happy. 

That said, we do have a problem when “scientists” start wheeling CTRs around in public, taking them for walks, dressing them in women’s undergarments, and putting them on airplanes to surprise [read: frighten and appall] fellow passengers.

I think we all remember how badly things turned out in  Terminator and Blade Runner. Not well. Not well at all.

According to the Emirates News Agency, Ibn Sina—the world’s first Arabic-speaking CTR from Acapela Group and the Interactive Robots and Media Lab at United Arab Emirates University—recently hopped aboard Emirates Airlines flight EK817 from Dubai to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Ibn Sina traveled first class all the way.

Ibn Sina, who takes his name from an 11th century Arabic philosopher, rolled through Dubai International Airport in a wheelchair. He bypassed long lines by checking in at the first-class counter and relaxed in the first-class lounge prior to boarding. I think I speak for all of us when I say robots do not lounge. They are robots; all they really need is to be tucked away in an extra large duffel bag and tossed into the overheard compartment. 

That’s not to say Ibn Sina—who was headed to Riyadh for a conference  at which he was an exhibit—isn’t a great CTR. He can recognize faces, understand people, and converse in Arabic. 

According to Acapela’s Web site, Ibn Sina uses both speech recognition and text-to-speech to “set up a full dialogue and add a natural Arabic voice.” Additionally, the site states Ibn Sina “is part of a new family of robots which aims to move a step forward in the way robots interact with humans by using novel face recognition, vision, speech solutions, and other advanced technologies, and also by using and publishing online social information, available on Facebook, toward better relationships with humans.”

Facebook? CTRs do not need Facebook. CTRs aren’t real. Where does it all end? Oh wait, we already know: with machines attempting to take over the world by sending cyborg assassins back in time to 1984 to kill Linda Hamilton. 

So let’s agree to keep CTRs where they belong: in labs, in controlled environments, and, yes, sometimes in our bedrooms—but not out in public. 

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