Robots


Researchers at the Cornell Creative Machine Lab came up with the brilliant idea of getting Cleverbot, their ‘intelligent’ chat program, to engage with its own doppelganger.

Clever Clogs: meet Clever Clogs.

Awesome.

Do you remember, Faithful Acowlytes, the amazing prowess of that catchily-titled web tossing marvel of mechanical law enforcement that we covered way back in 2009, the Tmsuk ‘T-34’? What a piece of robotic genius that was, eh! Well then, it is my absolute pleasure to bring to your attention this morning another robotic wonder from Tmsuk. This time, in association with the Showa University Department of Orthodonics, they have let loose upon the world the toothily-endowed Showa Hanako, a humanoid robot that is designed to be used by dental students to practice their drilling and filling.

Showa Hanako can realistically simulate all kinds of possible dental patient behaviour such as discharging saliva, shifting in the seat, choking, sneezing, gagging and making incomprehensible dialogue-style noises.1 You really have to see that choking action for yourself:

Disappointingly, there is no evidence of realistic screaming and panicking action, which is what I tend to exhibit when in the dental chair.

I am awesomely impressed that they make a big deal about Showa Hanako’s realistic tongue and mouth being made by Orient Industry, a maker of ‘love’ dolls. Yeah, I’m not even going there. I wonder if Orient has done a contra-deal to get teeth for their own product?

Acowlytes, mark my words: it’s only a matter of time before some crazed lunatic robot scientist decides to combine features of Showa Hanako, ReplieeQ1, Aiko, HRP-4C Gynoid and the Telstra fembot to create some spastically-jerking, head-lolling, wheelchair-bound, sex-crazed condescending robot bitch with big gnashing chompers. The idea disturbs me so greatly that I am in complete accordance with YouTube commenter Shketri for the final word on this:

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Thanks to Sir Joey for finding this one!

  1. I wonder if it can simulate shock at seeing the numbers on the bill? []

Crikey those Japanese roboticists are goddamned determined. Without even missing a balance-threatening beat after the cyberclockwork embarrassments that were Asimo and Aiko, they’ve wheeled a new proto-Terminator out of the lab. Now, the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology is presenting to the world their all-singing, all-dancing HRP-4C Gynoid1 Hmm. HRP-4C. Not exactly a roll-off-the-tongue kind of nickname, is it, really? I think I’m going to call it Harpy.

The YouTube clip above shows Harpy on stage doing a song and dance with some human girls as backup.2 Harpy’s creators have managed the build a robot so astonishingly sophisticated that it can move and correct its balance throughout an entire dance routine without faltering. They have, at the same time, demonstrated an impressive inability to get her body dimensions correct. Can anyone say ‘man hands’? Wait – can anyone say ‘orangutan arms’?

It’s not that the inventors haven’t given any thought at all to Harpy’s anatomy – she’s also done a little bit of modeling on the fashion catwalk, where it is obvious that the NIAIST drawing board wasn’t all doodles of just hydraulics and micro-relays.



Just look at that shiny titanium ass! I can hear what you’re thinking – she’s so sexy you want to marry her! Well, you can.


It’s OK – it’s a wedding. You’re allowed to cry.3






  1. Gynoid? Now there’s an expression that I don’t see catching on. []
  2. These Japanese tech folks need a bit of a refresher in marketing methinks. Demonstration Tip #1: don’t display your product next to something that is visibly superior. []
  3. Billy Jean? Why? Someone please tell me why? []

What is is with techy people when they come across robots? It seems that a machine merely has to bat a servo-driven eyelid for normally sane, balanced geeks to completely drop their brains on the floor.

Take this recent article over at the usually-sensible Engadget.

The photo you see above is of Bina48, one of the most advanced humanoid robots around. Bina48 resides at the Terasem Movement Foundation in Bristol, Vermont, and while she doesn’t exactly excel at conversation, she’s far more coherent than many we’ve spied… her existence and nearly constant evolution is pretty impressive and we’re going to keep our eye on her as we move toward the future.

In case you couldn’t figure it out, Bina is the one on the left. I know, I know, the astonishing human likeness makes it tricky to pick the robot from the New York Times reporter, but you’ll have to take my word for it. The spastic wobbling head on a plinth is in fact a machine.

Engadget’s acknowledgement that Bina ‘doesn’t exactly excel at conversation’ is somewhat of an understatement. The New York Times reporter attempted to ‘interview’ Bina and the effect is less of a conversation than something like an attempt to interpret the ravings of a simpleton on peyote.

I encourage you to watch the video of the interview now, to experience the full effect of Bina’s striking humanness.

I fail to see how this is in any way more impressive than the numerous other ‘realistic’ robots we’ve examined previously on The Cow. Engadget really needs to get out more. Perhaps on a date with Aiko or Roxxxy, who, even if not as ‘anatomically correct’ as their makers would have everyone believe, at least have bodies.

The New York Times reporter starts out bravely with Bina, but realises in two sentences that she’s been sent out on one of those stories that has little salvaging.

“Hi Bina,” she says, cheerily.

“Er… so where were we?” asks Bina, like a junkie being roused from an opium dream.

“I’m Amy. I’m a reporter,” says the NYT girl, with the sinking feeling that she’d have been better off doing the kitten-stuck-up-a-tree story.

“There is probably more to you than just that,” interrupts Bina, with a sneer.1

Poor Amy cuts her losses by having the story go to a voiceover:

I had lofty goals for my interview with the Bina48 robot. I imagined me, the intrepid New York Times correspondent, communing on camera with a new kind of intelligent silicon species.

Yes, dear Amy, and I bet that’s just how your editor sold it to you. Well, you’ve learned your lesson about robots haven’t you? You could have saved yourself a lot of grief if you’d been a constant reader of The Cow. We’ve covered all this in depth on numerous occasions.

Amy persists, to her detriment. She asks Bina several times if she’s ready for a conversation while the robot wobbles its badly-wigged head around, doing an uncanny impression of Parkinson’s patient trying to get out of a straight jacket. It finally decides on the well-worn AI strategy of rephrasing the question, which Amy takes as an affirmation.

“Cool!” says Amy.

“Ambiguous,” replies Bina, in an astonishingly embarrassing 1950s ‘does-not-compute’ kind of way. “Cold weather or cold sickness?”

Oh dear. That’s a big fat ‘F’ for you on the Turing Test, Bina.2

After an hour of ‘exhausting’ rapport with Bina, Amy calls it quits. Bina has lolled her head around,3 interrupted the conversation with baffling observations, misinterpreted questions, and advanced her ‘opinions’ on artificial intelligence in a completely unconvincing manner, all the while effectively demonstrating that she is anything BUT intelligent. Eventually, she attempts to explain her poor performance away on ‘having a bad software day’.

“You know how that is,” she pleads.4 NO WE DON’T, Bina. We are humans. We don’t have ‘bad software’ days.5

As I see it, every day is a bad software day for Bina. I’m perplexed when things like this get wheeled out time and time again as evidence of how the robotic future is just over the horizon. Bina is really nothing more that a mechanical appendage of software routines that have been around for decades. There are a few ‘physical’ additions (Such as Bina’s attempts to smile which are so creepy that I think makers of horror movies would do well to take notes) but all in all Bina is no more impressive than Fake Captain Kirk or Eliza. Obviously Engadget has a very different idea to me of what the future with robots ought to be like.

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Thanks to Atlas for providing more robot-spotting fun.

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  1. Seriously – we are SO attuned to facial gestures that, in my opinion, it’s way better to just forget them than to take the risk that they will be inappropriate. Watch someone closely next time you have a conversation, and see how much of the intent is carried by facial movement. You may be surprised. []
  2. Lesson Number 2: Make sure your robot knows the difference between literalness and colloquialism. My first question to a being who I suspected of masquerading as a human would be something like ‘How’s it hangin’ dawg?’ []
  3. Maybe if they programmed her to drool? It would complement the overall effect, that’s for sure. []
  4. The programmers are obviously going for wit here, but succeed only in bathos. []
  5. That excuse is going to go down really well when the first robot babysitter to drown someone’s child in the bath tries to blame it on ‘a bad software day’. []

Kevin over at Bearskin Rug has invited all & sundry to draw their own Thrilling Space Adventure – and quite impetuously I think – has given away the secrets of his trade to show you how to do it! If you click on the panel above you will see the full extent one of my own personal attempts at being a humorous illustrator/cartoonist type person. I’m nowhere near as clever as Kevin, but I made myself laugh and that’s all that counts. Surely.






The day before yesterday, Cow Central was besieged by enormous thunderstorms that lasted several hours throughout the afternoon. It was spectacular and scary. I had the great idea of attempting to record the thunder – it was the best rolling, echoing thunder I’ve heard in a long time. As I set my machine into record a phenomenal tearing shriek of thunder made me jump about three feet off the ground and sent The Spawn scurrying under the house. Here’s what it sounded like:

Download KABOOM!

– only a million times louder. Whatever did that, also knocked out the power to my house and brought down my internet. My net connection is not managed by the dreaded and appalling Telstra, but instead by Optus, another of our laughable telcos. I don’t have cause to ring Optus much – generally our net connection stays up – but since I was still completely cut off from the world when I woke up yesterday morning, I picked up the phone…

Oh crap. Now they have a robot too. It’s a little more brusque than the Telstra one, and a little less obsequious, but it’s still STUPID. But not as stupid as the real life operators, it seems, when I finally got through to one…

ME: Hello – my internet connection went down in the big storms yesterday and I was wondering if you could give me some idea when it will be up again.

CANDY:1 OK. Where are you situated (I tell her). OK. I’ll check for you.

♫ …tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking and wh… ♪

CANDY: It looks like all the connections down there are affected by the storms.

ME: Yes I know that.

CANDY: On your modem, can you see a flashing light?

ME: Yes. There’s a line error.

CANDY: But is it an orange flashing light?

ME: Yes. Well, it’s a green flashing light on my modem, but yes, it tells me the line is out.

CANDY: Well that orange flashing light is the reason you don’t have internet.

ME: No, Candy, surely the reason I don’t have internet is that the line is down because of the storms. The flashing light is just an LED that tells me what’s going on.

CANDY: …bzzz..t..bz..tsszz….bzzzz… (I swear I could hear her brain making that kind of noise) Well, it looks like there are problems with the internet because of the big storms down there.

ME (wondering if garrotting is still a popular form of murder): Right. So, can you give me any kind of idea when the problem will be fixed?

CANDY: No, I’m sorry. When the orange light stops flashing the problem will be fixed and your internet will be working again.

Two Hours Pass.

I call again. This time the robot is unable to parse my sentence. When I try and explain that I want to talk about an internet outage, the machine doesn’t ‘understand’ me and goes through the process of trying a bunch of alternatives. It’s like playing a guessing game with a monkey. No, scratch that. It’s like playing guessing games with a lobotomized monkey.

After it finds that it can’t guess what I want, it says ‘Hmmm. I’m not understanding you.’ Jesus fucking Christ. ‘Hmmm.’??? Someone has programmed the damn thing with attitude!

I really hope they’ll eventually give it a nose, so I can punch it.

  1. Her real name. Or at least the one she told me []

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