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Even he must admit that the robot is not entirely believable.In one of these industrial boxes, about 30 students and assistant professors work in a series of near-silent computer pods and observation rooms.I am 13 months into a period of spending long stints in a small town in upstate New York for the sake of productive quiet.I’m readying a book to go to the printers—work that, for me, is all-consuming and necessary.Ishiguro believes that since we’re hardwired to interact with and place our faith in humans, the more humanlike we can make a robot appear, the more open we’ll be to sharing our lives with it.Toward this end, his teams are pioneering a young field of research called human-robot interaction.They are the same size, one modeled on the other, and they are meeting for the first time. Mostly, though, Ishiguro’s brood of pretty “women” is used for his academic experiments, many of which are conducted at two locations in Japan: the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Nara and the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory on the campus of Osaka University.¶ The girl stares hard into the eyes of her counterpart; its expression is stern and stiff. ¶ A man is videotaping the pair—he is the father of one, creator of the other—and from off-camera he asks, “Would you like to say something? The lab, known as IRL, is embedded within a maze of austere, gray university buildings.
What about its behavior or appearance, its specific facial expressions and minute body movements, do they find alienating? These androids are used to find answers to an ever-growing list of research questions: How important is nonverbal communication to establishing trust between humans (and, therefore, between human and android)?As for me, when I first visit Ishiguro, my situation is this: I am 23 months away from what had seemed like the start of a serious relationship but was not.I am 15 months away from a rebound relationship that lingered too long.He wears tinted hexagonal glasses and styles his jet-black hair into a mop top that swoops across his forehead.
This is his department: Ishiguro, 54, is a distinguished professor at one of the country’s top universities, with two labs, partnerships with a dozen private companies throughout Japan, a recent million grant from the government (one of its most generous in science and engineering, he says), and seven secretaries to manage it all.HRI is a hybrid discipline: part engineering, part AI, part social psychology and cognitive science.