Android Science

At the 2005 World Exposition in Japan’s Aichi prefecture, robots from laboratories throughout the country were on display. The humanoids came in all shapes and sizes: they moved on wheels, walked on two legs, looked like lovable little dolls or fantastic mechanical warriors. All, however, were instantly recognizable as artificial creations. Except one: it had moist lips, glossy hair and vivid eyes that blinked slowly. Seated on a stool with hands folded primly on its lap, it wore a bright pink blazer and gray slacks. For a mesmerizing few seconds from several meters away, Repliee Q1expo was virtually indistinguishable from an ordinary woman in her 30s. In fact, it was a copy of one. To many people, Repliee is more than a humanoid robot–it is an honest-to-goodness android, so lifelike that it seems like a real person. Japan boasts the most advanced humanoid robots in the world, represented by Honda’s Asimo and other bipedal machines. They are expected to eventually pitch in as the workforce shrinks amid the dwindling and aging population. But why build a robot with pigmented silicone skin, smooth gestures and even makeup? To Repliee’s creator, Hiroshi Ishiguro, the answer is simple: “Android science.”

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