At this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, Sony debuted the new version of Aibo, its robotic dog. First available in 1999, Aibo has had a makeover for the new century and now includes advanced artificial intelligence, adaptive behaviour to interact with its owner, OLED eyes to show its emotions and a wide range of movement – all of which helps build “an emotional bond with members of the household while providing them with love, affection, and the joy of nurturing and raising a companion.”¹
This cute canine might elicit warm and fuzzy reactions, but the feeling tends not to extend to humanoid robots, despite displaying similarly mind-boggling, lifelike qualities.
Take the latest ability of Boston Dynamics’ robot, Atlas. In an extremely impressive feat of robotic engineering Atlas can now run, jump and perform backflips.
While Atlas may not have a humanoid face, watching the very human-like execution of its gymnastics is quite unnerving for some. The way Atlas wobbles then rights itself is something we can all relate to.
Meanwhile, other robot manufacturers such as Hanson Robotics, have focused on facial expressions to make them even more lifelike and engage with humans on a more emotional level. Hanson has also used AI to enable the robot to interact in a largely natural way. So lifelike that Sophia is now the first robot citizen of Saudi Arabia!
While it was originally suspected that the more real they got, the better humans could relate to robots, it came with a stipulation². While people do indeed like their robots to look human, if they couldn’t be perfect, they could not maintain an affinity with them. Consider the interaction between Good Morning Britain hosts and Sophia in this clip:
Naturally, not everyone perceives the same spectrum of creep-factor, but much like with art, we know creepy when we see it. As with anything, the more we delve into the technology, the more we discover about ourselves.
So, why doesn’t the uncanny valley apply to the adorable Aibo? Well perhaps it does. Take the internet’s collective freak-out following the release of Boston Dynamics’ video showing its quadruped robot, SpotMini, opening a door and trying to be stopped.
Is this an example of the canine uncanny valley, or is it upsetting for a completely different reason? As TechCrunch notes, “If the company managed to program Spot Mini [sic] to actually open the door on its own in order to help free its friend, well, perhaps it’s time to be concerned.”3 Uncanny indeed for anyone who has seen the episode of Black Mirror entitled Metalhead!
For now, I’ll just take an Aibo, thanks.
This is a New Zealand version of an article originally authored by Amy Gibbs, previously published on Digital Pulse.