What’s the difference between humans and robots?

By Miraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

As androids become ever more similar to humans in appearance and ability, this reveals more and more about what it really means to be human. And androids are now beginning to occupy roles in society similar to our own. Increasingly, the rise of robots calls for a rethink of what it means to be human...

Kodomoroid (2014) by Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Hiroshi Ishiguro LaboratoriesMiraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

Just like us

The word ‘android’, from Greek, means ‘human-like’. Robotics innovators are now trying to extend the role of robots into domains that were previously unreachable by conventional robots, such as news reading and nursing.

Kodomoroid reading the news (2014) by Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Hiroshi Ishiguro LaboratoriesMiraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

Kodomoroid ®, an android that resembles a child, can read the news in multiple languages.

A man who enjoys conversation through Telenoid (2010) by Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute InternationalOriginal Source: Telenoid Healthcare Company

Telenoid ® is a robot being introduced in the field of nursing.

Recognisable features like its facial and bodily features have been minimised, so people can imagine someone familiar to them, bringing comfort.

For example, elderly people can picture a grandchild’s features and mannerisms.

Hiroshi Ishiguro, an android researcherMiraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

"The biggest difference between a robot and a computer is its presence.

"Robots and androids are easy for persons to anthropomorphize, and it can therefore make people feel that there are intelligence, emotions and consciousness there.

"I think that androids may become a bigger part of our lives as the technology that enhances these characteristics develops."

- Ishiguro Hiroshi, "Mirror reflecting someone's heart"

Hiroshi Ishiguro and his android "Geminoid HI-1" (2006) by Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Hiroshi Ishiguro LaboratoriesMiraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

What is human?

What’s more, as we further develop android technology - through the observation and modelling of humans - we gain a deeper understanding of human beings: their traits, emotions and eccentricities.

Otonaroid (2014) by Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Hiroshi Ishiguro LaboratoriesMiraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

Otonaroid ®, an android that closely resembles an adult woman, has been developed not only to look like a human but to even mimic human expression and gestures through subtle changes and movements.

Even when sitting still, Otonaroid ® makes tiny eye and shoulder movements.

Otonaroid talking with humans (2014) by Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Hiroshi Ishiguro LaboratoriesMiraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

You also have a conversation with Otonaroid ® via intercom from a nearby booth.

Operation booth of Otonaroid (2014) by Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Hiroshi Ishiguro LaboratoriesMiraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

You can watch the image of the camera embedded in the eyes of Otonaroid ® and listen to her voice.

By synchronizing the movement of the neck through the headset, it makes the observer feel as though they have embodied her.

This experience reveals that the human body and senses are not tightly connected as we might think.

Alter (2016) by "Alter" Production Team(Hiroshi Ishiguro, Takashi Ikegami, Kohei Ogawa, Itsuki Doi, Hiroki Kojima, Atsushi Masumori)Miraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

An android called ‘Alter ®’ was created in the pursuit not just of life-like appearance, but of emulating realistic human movement.

What is it that makes us feel alive?

Alter showing Life-like movements (2016) by "Alter" Production Team(Hiroshi Ishiguro, Takashi Ikegami, Kohei Ogawa, Itsuki Doi, Hiroki Kojima, Atsushi Masumori)Miraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

Complex movements are produced by specialized programs, such as the central pattern generator and neural network, which mimic human neural circuits.

A human and an android looking each other (2016) by "Alter" Production Team(Hiroshi Ishiguro, Takashi Ikegami, Kohei Ogawa, Itsuki Doi, Hiroki Kojima, Atsushi Masumori)Miraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

The future for humans and androids

The boundary between androids and humans is getting ever more more narrow.

How will our relationship with robots develop as androids become ever more sophisticated, and humans begin to regard them differently?

Credits: Story

Miraikan - The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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