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Road to building an android: Top robot technology stories of 2017.

Science fiction, whether in book form or film, have long fantasized of a walking, talking robot that's almost indistinguishable from humans.

Robin Williams' 'Bicentennial Man' offered an idea of how humankind may treat such a being. Perhaps because of issues raised by such stories, we have become more willing to make a robot a citizen, like in the case of Sophia. The robot has been named the first robot citizen of Saudi Arabia.

But the other side of the coin suggests a more dastardly future: one where machines wage war on its creators, like in 'Terminator'. It's no surprise that influential people, particularly tech visionaries like Elon Musk, warn about the dangers of developing artificial intelligence too quickly and carelessly.

Nonetheless, robot experts continue to follow their dream of building a robot in the image of man: the android.

Here are some of the latest developments in robot technology, which may one day lead us to create either an acceptance-seeking Bicentennial man ('Bicentennial Man'), a terrifying Terminator ('Terminator'), a childlike David ('A.I. Artificial Intelligence'), or a pleasure-providing Gigolo Joe ('A.I. Artificial Intelligence').


Recreating human mobility is a tough hurdle to overcome in robotics, but Boston Dynamics has been able to give their humanoid Atlas robot some acrobatic skills.

'Origami muscles'

For now, robots still rely on a collection of bulky servos and pneumatic systems to move. But if developed fully, future androids could have artificial muscles to allow for more fluid, human-like movements.

Robot skin

On top of their artificial muscles, future androids could have artificial skin, like the one being developed by researchers at Stanford University. The substance had been created for use in prosthetics but could be easily adapted on robots.

With skin, it becomes possible to develop sense of touch for androids. This would make interacting with them more human-like, whether it's for day-to-day tasks, or in the bedroom, with a pleasure-providing android. Scientists from the University of Washington and University of California are hard at work in this area.

Image: University of Washington official website

Better, brainier bots

But an android would be nothing more than a glorified sex doll if it does not have the wits to match our own. Artificial intelligence research has been progressing rapidly through machine learning. Just take a look at our phones, which are built to learn user habits. This robot from MIT's CSAIL department has been equipped with artificial intelligence which corrects itself when scolded by a human.

Love dolls

Put all of these together, then add a splash of Japanese aesthetics, and humans may one day be walking hand in hand, talking or even be sharing a bedroom with a robotic companion as lovely as Erica.

Love dolls have been increasing in popularity and their creators are now developing ways of turning them into sex bots, like in the TV series 'Westworld'. Samantha is one example of a sex bot in development.

It may take a few more decades before very human-like androids start rolling out of the factory floor. Technological advancements offer a good chance that robotics would eventually head in that direction, but how humanity would treat such mechanical offsprings remains to be seen. JB

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Dec 26, 2017
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