by David Geer
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Artificial Intelligence Brings Humanoid
Robots to Life (Part Deux)
It is not so much the practicality of humanoid robots that drives interest in
their development as it is the familiarity, sources say. “People are interested
in things that are anthropomorphic. This makes interaction with [humanoid]
robots easier,” says James J. Kuffner, PhD, associate professor of the Robotics
Institute at the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University. So,
while there are many practical robots taking shape as imitations of other
biological life forms (such as snakes for pipeline examination), a place has
been indelibly etched for humanoid robots.
In developing humanoid robots, most researchers imitate people’s useful functions and behaviors
in their work in order to replicate skills that will be
useful for our society, according to Kuffner.
“Some researchers are interested in [going
beyond that and] making a clone of someone that
is indistinguishable from a human being. That is a
much harder thing to do. And for robots that we
simply want to improve our society, it is not
Humanoid robot in the CMU Robotics Institute lab
exhibiting a grasping technique.
10 SERVO 02.2010
necessary to have a machine that looks exactly like
a human being,” Kuffner explains.
In fact, it may even be counter-productive.
One example is something called the “uncanny
valley.” The uncanny valley is an interesting
phenomenon that was discovered several decades
ago in which people have an affinity for things
that are anthropomorphic, Kuffner continues.
It has to do with our neurons. By making a
machine anthropomorphic, we can make the
interaction with the robot easier and give people a
natural appeal towards the machine.
“But something funny happens when the
machine gets to be so realistic that it starts to
become indistinguishable from real humans. Then
people are not sure whether it really is human or
not. And that’s called the uncanny valley in terms
of if you plot an affinity for the machine with a
vertical axis and its degree of realism with a
horizontal axis, people start to like it the more
anthropomorphic it is and then all of a sudden it
reaches a point where people are afraid, they are
not sure what it is and they are scared of it [and
the affinity for the machine on the vertical axis
drops] and they have a strong aversion to them,”
says Kuffner. A lot of psychologists think it is the
fear of zombies or dead bodies, according to
If people can’t tell the difference between a