A Lab’s Disturbing Effort to Recreate Us

At least their name isn’t Skynet. Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, named after the founder, is dedicated to designing life-like robots that mimic human behavior. The Geminoid project, in particular, is aimed at constructing “life-model-decoys” (my own dorky comic book reverence) whose appearance closely resemble actual human beings. This resemblance is achieved by a 3D scanner. One end of this research project is to explore the question “what is the essence of human beings?”.

Why do I find this disturbing? The picture should be self-evident. Look at the two inset pictures. The “Elfoid” is to the left. Its purpose to be an “innovative communication medium which conveys individuals’ presence to remote locations using voice, appearance, touch, and motion”. The “Hugvie” is to the right. As the creators have expressed concerning the Hugvie, “we have found that hugging and holding these robots during an interaction is an effective way for strongly feeling the existence of a partner.” That is just weird, man.

What is even more troubling than the freaky looking robots is how the creators seem to have the delusion their efforts will eventually result in the creation of free thinking “intelligent” minds. I agree that the presence of our non-physical selves interacting with our physical bodies is a mystery. I don’t know how that happens. But Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories is making one of two crucial errors in their reasoning that they can accomplish this goal. They either think the physical is all that exists, which would force us to the absurd conclusion that our non-physical selves with our non-physical thoughts do not exist. Or, they believe if they get just the right combination of physical stimuli, it will spontaneously produce a non-physical consciousness in the hunk of metal and rubber. Do you think this is as of kilter is I do?