A central theme of the recently concluded GF2045 Congress was the idea of achieving a kind of immortality by transferring our minds to avatars or robots. Indeed, as Japanese professor Hiroshi Ishiguro’s presentation clearly showed, our robotic doppelgangers will truly be made to look and act like the real thing.
During his presentation at Alice Tully Hall in New York's Lincoln Center, Ishiguro was joined onstage by his look-alike android, the Geminoid. As Ishiguro spoke, the Geminoid sat on a chair, occasionally nodding its head, shifting its eyes, and moving its lips. At times, the resemblance was uncanny — and even a bit unsettling.
The Geminoid was controlled remotely by a person offstage, so it’s not completely autonomous. It’s just a mindless robot, of course, an empty shell that merely gives off the impression of a real person.
But at the conclusion of the speech, the Geminoid suddenly spoke up, telling the audience that it won't be long before it's able to give a better presentation than the real Ishiguro.
And indeed, Ishiguro’s Geminoid fit in rather nicely within the larger theme of the conference. The organizer of the event, Dmitry Itskov, has dreams of uploading himself to a surrogate much like Geminoid. To that end, the Global Futures 2045 Congress brought together roboticists, neuroscientists, AI theorists, and other experts to discuss this and other possibilities for radically extending life. Ideas on how to do so included brain preservation via plastination, detailed brain mapping, optogenetics, and the construction of neuronal replacement parts.
The Geminoid, which costs about $100,000, is being built with a “constructive” approach; the android’s mannerisms are being added iteratively to make it more realistic. And interestingly, the Geminoid has even been given flaws to make it seem more real, such as a scowl and unconscious movements.
Speaking after the event, Itskov said, “Personally, I will never forget Dr. Ishiguro pushing the hotel luggage cart with the ‘human’ passenger down Broadway and the expressions of those passing by.”
In addition to this, Ishiguro also showed off his Telenoid, a small, pillow-like robot made to look ageless and genderless so that people can project an imagined face onto its neutral appearance. The Telenoid is currently being tested among the elderly in Denmark, and initial reactions are very positive, he said.
Image: Japan Times.
He also showed off a handheld version of Telenoid, making the case that people might interact better with each other if their mobile phones looked more like little persons.
George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.
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