Sophia the robot

Robots that look like people have long been part of science fiction. As a storytelling medium, it’s easy to see their appeal. Whether they’re the replicants from Ridley Scott’s cyberpunk thriller Blade Runner or the expressive android Ava c Ex Machina, these realistic constructions allow us to explore questions about gender, technology, and what it means to be human.

For nearly a century – and perhaps before that – roboticists have been working to make this fiction a reality. And there’s no shortage of research into why humanoid robots scare us. (Spoiler: It might be because they make us I feel less human themselves.) But they still have the potential to benefit us; Scientists have repeatedly shown that humanoid robots can help children with autism spectrum disorders build social skills, according to 2022 survey in the diary children.

Read more: The eerie feeling in the uncanny valley

Although they have not yet overcome the uncanny valley, scientists and engineers are still working to create automata that are indistinguishable from their organic counterparts. Here are four humanoid robots that almost It seems person. (Almost.)

1. The humanoid robot Ameca — the most expressive

(Credit: Engineered Arts)

When Engineered Arts, a UK-based humanoid robot designer, released a YouTube video of one of its creations in late 2021, the automaton’s eerily realistic behavior went viral. The robot duplicated Ameka, moves through a dynamic series of facial expressions—from confusion at “waking up” to a flash of frustration and then awe as he examines his own hands, wide eyes, and gaping mouth. At the end of the video, it smiles and reaches out to the viewer.

Creepy stuff, right? Well, according to Ameca, you have nothing to fear. IN follow up video published in 2022, it tries to quell any fears of a robot rebellion. “You don’t need to worry,” says Ameca in a conversation with its developers. “Robots will never take over the world. We are here to help and serve people, not replace them.”

In the video’s description, the engineers explain that Ameca’s responses aren’t the result of anything sinister; the effect was achieved by combining automated speech recognition with a large language model called GPT 3. “Nothing in this video is pre-written,” they wrote. “The model receives a basic prompt describing Ameca, giving a description of the robot [its] myself.”

2. The robot Sofia — Android Ambassador

Sofia speaking at the AI ​​for Good Global Summit in Geneva, Switzerland in 2017 (Credit: International Telecommunication Union/Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a good chance you’ve seen Sofia before. Developed by Hanson Robotics and activated in 2016, the AI-powered humanoid robot soon became a media sensation, boasting thousands of public appearances in everything from SXSW to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In 2017, Sofia was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia – becoming the first robot to be granted legal personality.

Over the years since then, Sofia has been beautified glossy magazine coverspresented at technical conferences and travel around the world on behalf of the United Nations. But despite being touted as the future of artificial intelligence, many in the AI ​​community have dismissed the lifelike automaton as a marketing gimmick. IN social media postJan Lekun, Facebook’s head of AI, called Hanson’s engineers “puppetmasters” who are deliberately tricking the public into thinking Sophia is intelligent.

Read more: Humans and our anxious fear of robots

The criticisms are not unfounded. David Hanson, founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics, started out as an imaginary Walt Disney tasked with crafting sculptures and robotic technology for theme parks. (You might even think of Sophia as a disturbingly realistic animatronic.) And while Hanson didn’t hesitate to agree with Jimmy Fallon that Sophia was “basically alive” in 2017, the experts who reviewed the bot’s open source code for Quartz said it was closer to a “chat bot with a face”.

3. Boston Dynamics Atlas — the robot that can do parkour

(Credit: Boston Dynamics)

Unlike the previous bots on this list, Atlas doesn’t have expressive eyes or the ability to smile—in fact, he doesn’t have much of a face at all. But this giant humanoid robot, developed by Boston Dynamics, can do a lot that its competitors (and many people) can’t. In recent years, the robotics company has shown it jogging, jumping, doing backflips and even passing through a series of uneven obstacles. In other words, Atlas can do parkour.

However, the robot’s more mundane skills – such as grasping an object – can make it particularly useful for humans. In January 2023, Boston Dynamics released a new video showing Atlas grabbing a bag of tools and maneuvering up a multi-story scaffolding before throwing it at a human worker at the top. Such complex feats could one day help workers on construction sites or factories.

Still, it’s not hard to imagine a more dystopian application of Atlas’ abilities. In 2020, the New York Police Department began leasing a four-legged robot dog by Boston Dynamics (called Digidog by employees) to be deployed in dangerous situations. Although it was only used in a few cases, including a hostage crisis and an incident in a public housing buildingDigidog was withdrawn from operation the following year after a fierce public backlash.

4. Valkyrie — NASA’s robot

With a name straight out of Norse mythology and weighing a whopping 300 pounds, Valkyrie is an impressive sight. This NASA robot was created by engineers to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge in 2013. The 6-foot bipedal robot looks perfectly suited for a mission to Mars. Valkyrie’s elegant viewfinder contains a a complex array of visual sensorswhile the machine’s human hands allow it to perform tasks like turning a valve – and it’s powered by a battery.

Ironically, Valkyrie would never board a space shuttle or set foot on the Red Planet. (It is currently attached to the ceiling inside a warehouse in Lowell, Mass.) Nevertheless, it represents a key step in the development of realistic, real-life robots that could one day soar in space alongside astronauts. In 2022, NASA partnered with robotics maker Apptronik to boost the Austin-based company’s development of its latest humanoid robot, Apollo.

“The robots we’ve all dreamed of are here and ready to go out into the world,” said Jeff Cardenas, CEO and co-founder of Apptronik, in press release. “These robots will first become tools for us here on Earth and eventually help us go beyond and explore the stars.”

Read more: After a disaster, a robot can save your life

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