For the good of all androids, a robot toddler does its best impression of a human child
Every so often, a new and terrifying robot is unveiled, making us all wonder just what roboticists are thinking. Cue the stumbling entrance of “CB2” – which stands for “Child-Robot with Biomimetic Body”- a humanoid robot that deliberately mimics the appearance and behaviour of a bright-eyed toddler (albeit an oversize one with flaccid grey silicone skin).
CB2 was built at Japan’s Osaka University, and it’s designed to gradually learn human abilities, such as walking and talking, from the ground up. At 1,2 m tall and 33 kg, it’s about twice the size of an average human toddler. It can stand with assistance, imitate human facial expressions and make noises, and it even grabs for your keys if you dangle them. But why would roboticists want to give CB2 this odd suite of abilities?
CB2 co-creator Hiroshi Ishiguro argues that the key to measuring the “humanness” of androids lies in reproducing human childhood development. In collaboration with psychologists at the University of Washington, Ishiguro has proposed to use human developmental markers to gauge the success of increasingly humanlike robots. These criteria come in the form of familiar milestones reached by human children, such as an infant’s ability to imitate the facial expressions of nearby adults (CB2 has this one covered).
“These psychological benchmarks can be separated from questions such as, ‘Does the robot really have consciousness?’,” says Batya Friedman, a professor at the University of Washington who works with CB2. “Instead, we can look behaviourally at how the robot performs.” By carefully imitating us, machines like CB2 are taking baby steps toward becoming fully realised adult androids.
Resident roboticist Daniel Wilson is a member of the PM Editorial Board of Advisers. His latest book is ? (Bloomsbury).