Date
11 December 2017
Two droids at a Tokyo museum will encourage visitors to explore the differences between humans and machine. Photo: Miraikan
Two droids at a Tokyo museum will encourage visitors to explore the differences between humans and machine. Photo: Miraikan

Larger than lifelike: Close encounters of the droid kind

They could be the face of things to come. At Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation two new guides have been enlisted to welcome and interact with visitors, changing the shape of android-human relations.

Named Kodomoroid and Otonaroid, the droids are less R2-D2 and more girly Blade Runner, with spookily lifelike speech and appearance.

They are enveloped in a silicon skin and can talk, read tweets, switch voices and present the news in a variety of languages. A former Japanese astronaut was even on hand at the exhibition’s opening to welcome Otonoroid on board as a “science communicator” for the museum. 

The droids are the work of Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro who says they can help people explore the difference between human and machine. 

Even without these droids, it’s getting hard to tell the human from the artificial. Automatons already appear to be reading the news on North Korean television, Hillary Clinton still comes across as slightly robotic and just last week there was much debate about whether a computer program called Eugene passed the Turing Test.

In Blade Runner it took about 100 questions to tell whether the most sophisticated replicant was woman or machine. Retired police officer Rick Deckard had to dig deep into Rachel’s artificial past to see whether she was the real deal or a work of the imagination.

Ishiguro’s droids have not yet reached the sophistication of Ridley Scott’s replicants but they do offer the passing public in Japan the chance to run a Turing-style test of the their own. This could just be the chance to finally hear the answer to a question first posed more than four decades ago: Do androids really dream of electric sheep?

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