FIGURE 2. iRobot’s NS- 5.
extremely life-like humanoid, albeit a baby
humanoid. Reborn doll kits, special tools
such as hair insertion needles, and many
other reborn supplies are also available.
If a baby is too much for you, I’ve seen
robot cats and dogs that seemingly lie
asleep in a basket with a breathing
motion that you’d swear was real.
Getting past the eerie part of simulated robot babies and pets, let’s ask
the question — just what is a humanoid?
As an experimenter, the term humanoid
merely describes a robot that has
human appearances. So, what does the
rest of the world think a humanoid is?
• Any of the earliest ancestors of
• A creature resembling man, as one
of man’s early ancestors.
• Nearly human, as in appearance or
• A being having human form.
• A robot or creature resembling a
• In sci-fi, an alien from outer space
or a robot that physically resembles
a human being.
• An automaton that resembles a
Notice that all of these various
descriptions describe appearances and
characteristics of some sort of creature
that is not an actual human. They start
out with an anthropologist’s view and
progress to a science fiction description
and on to a robotics experimenter’s idea
of what a humanoid is. It seems to me
that a description of a humanoid is
even more vague than that of a robot.
A human being is far more than
the above definitions. A mechanical
FIGURE 3. The latest version of
the Stepford Wives.
creation can have the appearance of a
human, and yet, not have the many axes
of motion or degrees of freedom of it
arms, legs, body, and head. Even a robot
with 40 or 50 axes of motion still will
not approximate a human with its
capability of subtle motions. Add in
voice nuances, subtle eye movements,
facial expressions, body motions, and
other human characteristics and a
person desiring to produce a life-like
humanoid robot is faced with an
uphill battle. A humanoid adult robot
certainly is more complex to construct
than a rebuilt baby doll toy, even with
mechanical extremity motions added.
Certainly, we have to start at some
basic point and progress through many
levels of development before a believable
humanoid robot is produced. None of
the above descriptions mention intelligence, capabilities, or finite features.
Looking at basics, for years, robot
builders have felt that a humanoid
robot does not need to be bi-pedal in
nature but feel that it should have the
general appearance of a human being.
Two arms and a swivel head at the top
of a torso might be considered basic
requirements, but some may argue
this point. Despite experimenter’s best
intentions, robots have yet to even
come close to approximating a human
being. Whether anyone would admit
it or not, the dream of many robot
experimenters would be to design
and build a robot that would be
indistinguishable from a human being.
A robot that looked like a ’Nestor
Class NS- 5’ (Figure 2) from the movie
i-Robot would be great, but a machine
like the ‘Stepford Wives’ shown in Figure
3 could possibly be the dream of a few
people today. If you recall either of the
two versions of the movie, a men’s club
in a generic New England town fabricated
FIGURE 4. Bicentennial Man.
look-alike humanoid replicas of each of
the member’s wives, and somehow
disposed of the flawed real wives. In the
film Bicentennial Man, Andrew — the
character played by Robin Williams —
desired to be recognized as a real human
being. Figure 4 shows Williams’ character,
and a ‘bimbo’ robot companion
overlooking a roboticist building him a
new face. It took Andrew 200 years to
achieve the goal of becoming a human.
Maybe you consider one of the
‘Replicants’ from Blade Runner as a
lot closer to reality. Many people have
decided that such a machine is
absolutely impossible with today’s
technology — but one never knows.
The Turing Test
The “Turing Test” for computer
intelligence has puzzled humans in
recent years: “Is it a human on a keyboard hidden out of sight answering my
questions or is it a computer trying to act
like a human?” For those readers who
are not familiar with this famous exam,
Alan Turing proposed the following test
of computer intelligence in his 1950
FIGURE 5. A famous New Yorker cartoon.
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