Robotic Geisha Can Make Conversation, Sing, and Cry
The newest creepily realistic android from Japan was presented at CES today, a robotic geisha from Toshiba named ChihiraAico. Actually, she presented herself:
Like a real-life geisha, ChihiraAico is a hostess whose job is to entertain through conversation and song. She gives her age as "32 years old (technically born in September 2014)." Her goal, she says, is "truly inspirational communication." She can express many different emotions, including happiness, sadness, and irritation, and even has the ability to cry.
ChihiraAico has unusually smooth and silent body movements that are controlled by 43 pneumatic actuators, a type of motor that converts compressed air into mechanical motion. There are 24 in her arms and hands and 15 in her face, which allows her to gesticulate and make facial expressions. Toshiba stated that their goal in creating the android was to facilitate "real heart-warming communication with human-like facial expression," and ultimately to employ her in elderly care, nursing, and waitressing. There is also talk of the android providing romantic companionship in the more distant future.
Toshiba claims that she has "the most realistic facial expressions of any android," although I tend to doubt that. From the above video, ChihiraAico is clearly in uncanny valley territory. It's true that we hardly see any close-ups of her facial expressions in the video, but this video of another recently unveiled android named Asuna seems to have ChihiraAico beat:
Asuna is terrifyingly realistic, to the point that there is already talk of employing her as an actress and "international pop star." According to Daily Mail, "She is so convincing that many people bowed respectfully before requesting politely to take her photo or join a selfie at the event."
It must be said that advancements in the android industry are revealing a lot about how we as a society still feel about women. The vast majority of the android models to come out recently have been modeled after women, which is significant considering that they are mostly intended for care and service occupations, as well as for sexual needs. Hyper-realistic (female) sex dolls called "Dutch Wives" with moveable eyes and realistically textured skin are currently on sale for approximately $1,100. When Asuna, who is meant to look like a fifteen-year-old girl, was presented at Tokyo Designers' Week, one man joked that she would make "a good date; a cheap date!"
To be fair, if we had robots to handle child and elderly care, one could argue that less of the burden then falls on women. But these robots, and their purposes, seem to say a great deal about how society wants women to behave, as well as women's perceived disposability.
'We already have 20 year's experience making androids in the lab," said Takeshi Mita, CEO of the company that made Asuna. "So in 10 years we will marry AI and live like geminoids in perfection."