29 Nov 2008
Fun With Your New Head

Live demonstrations at ICT 2008 will include several robotic heads that show facial emotional responses to humans’ faces and voices. Of course, the first thing I thought of was Thomas M. Disch’s Fun With Your New Head. If I remember correctly, it was a user manual of sorts for bodyless human heads that were sold to aliens so that they could experience human emotions.

According to ScienceDaily, in Robots Created That Develop And Display Emotions And Become Attached To Certain People, a European project (FEELIX GROWING) is “developing robots that are capable of growing emotionally, responding to humans and of expressing their own emotional states as they interact with people”. It goes on to say that the project “aims to develop autonomous robots which will be capable of interacting with humans in everyday environments, and will learn and develop emotionally, socially and cognitively in accordance with the needs and personalities of the individuals with which they associate”.

To me the phrasing is rather loaded, perhaps to make the story more catchy. I don’t think we’re anywhere near developing software that really grows and develops emotionally. Just because it may walk like a duck and quack like a duck doesn’t make it a duck.

That’s not to say that I don’t think sufficiently complex software will ever achieve this, but often enough mimicry or emulation is “good enough” — just consider something as old as the unexpected ELIZA effect (ELIZA was written in 1966 as a parody of a phychotherapist).

ScienceDaily cite: “University of Hertfordshire (2008, November 25). Robots Created That Develop And Display Emotions And Become Attached To Certain People. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 29, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2008/11/081120111622.htm”

image: Proportions of the Head (c. 1488 – 1489), a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, Wikimedia Commons

Category: Life-Society, Sci-Tech
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