I was doing some research on bots (specifically androids/gynoids) to help get me back into this short story I was writing. I love anything to do with bots, even if I have problems with some of the actual, real-life ones we’ve built so far (yeah i know – sorry, Fritz Lang’s golden gal and Terminator’s borged-ed up Summer Glau – at left – sadly are not the subject of this post)…
[updated 2009-12-06] : more cool bot links and vids, restructured.
1. The gynoid arc, and the evolution of robotics
Does anyone know where all the androids went, the ones from a while back?
You’d think that after all those sci-Fi thrillers where female AIs take over the world and run amok (or get possessed, poltergeist-esque, by dead little girls), that robotics engineers wouldn’t want to touch gynoid dev with a barge-pole. Quite the opposite is true.
Androids come in different shapes, sizes and colors. Their design teams don’t seem to give a rat’s arse whether they visually represent real human males at all (see pic at left). The focus is more on their functionality (can they run / lift / get up after falling / rescue a damsel in distress (awww!), etc). So it seems androids have largely been vehicles for investigating the mechanics of robotics (as have robotics based on other forms, e.g. insectoid robots).
Gynoids, on the other hand, seem to have been vehicles for investigating human-computer interaction, and uncanny-valley effects. It’s gynoids waging the realism war, and they have borne the brunt of the inevitable, initial “yuck” response.
This division is by no means hard and fast (this adorable pint-sized gynnie, for example, makes coffee. Or tries to. Ain’t she got spunk?!).
2. Co-evolution with sex dolls
Within the overall progress of robotics, the gynoid arc will trace out a path where two forces interact: we will see the co-evolution of sex dolls and regular / all-purpose gynoids. Many people have tried (and largely succeeded) in making the case that the porn industry did wonders for progress in digital media and internet technology as a whole. If that is true, the process might be repeating itself within the realm of robotics: even back in ’99, the mechanics of the (in)famous Matt McMullen’s real doll business required that he consider automation as the next logical – and quite frankly unavoidable – step, in his business plan. Or a competitor would. [ I spoke too soon. The most ‘unkindest cut of all…’, and all that].
3. A brief Herstory of life in the uncanny valley
3(i) – “Somebody spot me – I’m gonna fall over!”
I should introduce you to some happy-sad-pathetic-funny footage. You gotta read the preamble, then watch the whole thing. Man, my stomach muscles still hurt… The Festival of the Gynnies would be incomplete without this video. Within it unfolds the sort of cringe-worthy (and side-splittingly hilarious) events that no future bot should see. I know I’d go postal if this was my great great great grandma. Folks, this is what’ll make ’em go ‘Terminator’ on our asses. We should take stuff like this off the nets and bury it.
I can only surmise that it was more important for her to dance than… to do, or for that matter BE, anything else. I don’t know what the engineers were trying to achieve… All that trouble to dress her up (badly, I might add), meanwhile important problems like BALANCE haven’t been worked out.
Worst of all, her 2 human assistants are embarrassed for her. I wonder if they were forced to put her on show…
3(ii) – All will look upon me… and DESPAIR.
Do you remember Repliee-R1 from years ago? Yes, it freaked everybody out.
update: The youtube link is dead now but you could prolly google for images
Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro quickly learned that ‘cute little girl‘ is not a meme you can fuck with, unless it’s a horror movie. His later models attest to that.
3(iii) unlikely responses
Googling around, I landed on this (Canadian) treasure. Meet the strangely wimpish Aiko and her creator, who would like nothing better than to help the aged with a friendly robot pal. Oh, how quickly we go from this noble manifesto:
“The original goal of Aiko was to help our aging population to do simple tasks like make tea and coffee,”*
(it kicks in at approx 45seconds onwards): a video (since deleted) of a the robot being. for all intents and purposes, assaulted.
Huh?! So… geriatric care involves… breast-squeezing?! I just cracked up when I saw that.
Are we worried that aiko would be assaulted in this way and that she might have to defend herself from the geriatrics in her care? It’s never really explained… I don’t think we have the whole vid / full context. [Update: there’s yet another youtube vid of these two, where he’s pinching her cheek briefly, so I dunno… I ain’t saying it’s a pattern, but…]
There’s no insight on the main aiko site either, as to how exactly boob-squeezes further gynoid development (ample measurement stats to help you buy underwear for our Aiko tho’, should you be so inclined, are easy to find).
And I should also be clear that I’m not being a boobist – it’s not about denying gynoids the right to sensitive mammaries, damnit! I’m just questioning the design ethos. Since most gynoids to date can easily be diagnosed with chronic bilateral macromastia, I would have thought that sensitivity would be the last thing they’d want built into their bossoms. What if Aiko needed to run and catch a bus, Mr Trung? I ask you to rethink those pressure sensors. (That’s the roboticist behind Aiko, btw – Le Trung is his name).
More rubbish responses: I would’ve thought that any wiring that recognizes pain, but which allows you to sit dumbly through it and then ask questions later (“why did you do that? That hurt!”)… instead of, say, delivering a well-timed backhand with the spare arm… smacks (haha!) of bad robot design.
If I could build bots, you can be pretty sure mine would be designed to be able kick this aiko’s ass (and her roboticist’s, for that matter) on any given Sunday. And the other six days to boot. Maybe even just for fun. Till she learned to hack her own wiring (god knows this basement dude isn’t going to do it for her).
But hey, I can’t even remember how to make an LED blink if you gave me a battery and some solder and then held a gun to my head. So, props to this engineer – Canada’s own gynoid roboticist – for getting this far. You see his face in that vid and you realise that he prolly hasn’t, and doesn’t, even think about a 10th of this stuff I’m on about.
Prolly. Or maybe he does, but just not in the same way.
4. Interesting visual design choices
Meet Phorone, or as I like to call her, thunder-thighs. (No, I don’t generally go around calling ppl TT. It was a high-school in-joke. Nobody was hurt. Long story…)
It’s clear that somebody knows what he likes in a woman 🙂
At least this bot can kick like a mule (aiko, take a leaf outta this book).
Too bad about the white blouse and silky blue scarf. This bot should be in a v-necked black T, don’t you think?
She should have long bangs or a half-shaved head. Lose the lipstick. Shades, not glasses. There should be a ring somewhere where there shouldn’t be. Like a lip or an eyebrow. Short leather jacket. Higher-heeled pumps. Some bling – a chunky bracelet; a bold ring.
Clichéd? ‘Course it’s clichéd. But it’d be visual design that manages to be consistent in its presumptions while being interesting in a new and different way.
Plus, if you took my makeover advice, you would also be honouring far more thunder-thighed women than you are with this model, which just comes across like a wet blanket. HAVING SAID ALL THAT… I know for a fact that there’s tons of women out there with this bot’s very build, and so whether it was an accident or not, I for one think the result is kind of awesome. Hooray for inclusive morphology. (I had to look that up).
In fact – when all is said and done, the top half of this bot (right pic) and the bottom half (above pic) have nothing at all to do with each other, proportionwise. By dint of this alone, they should change her advertised ‘job role’ from “secretary” (*rolls eyes*) to World’s first-ever truly representational mannequin, and deploy her as such.
Somebody tell that to Kokoro-Dreams, her makers, who also happen to be responsible for Actroid DER 3:
Question: why is her voice so high-pitched? I have DORMED with real japanese girls and, even at that age, they had a lower register than this. What is she supposed to be, some kind of anime-aping toddler? Sigh… She *does* gain realism points on a few other fronts though.
Kokoro-Dreams, you are DISMISSED, for too many inconsistencies in visual (and aural) design.
5. Some more recent bots:
for 99 bucks, Femisapien would be a neat toy for a kid who likes robots…
A more grown-up bot : the HRP-4C
I actually like the design of the HRP-4C a bit better than the others so far: it is also one of the more recent ones (unveiled this year, I think?) and you can already see the improvement in facial expressions. Her design also seems a bit more functional / less hyperfeminine (but titter ye not, if that disappoints: they fully intend that she be some kind of fashion model. Engadget has ghastly images of her in possibly the most hideous wedding gown ever designed). Check out a promo for the press:
The key advancement is that she can move around all by herself, which I don’t think previous gynnies really did. They sat or stood and diverted their efforts at speaking to captive audiences (captive cos they would otherwise flee, I guess).
Gynnies have come a long way, baby! But I think there are far more interesting developments in insectoid, quadrupedal, swarm robotics and others. But Gynnies seem to catch our eye because they are the ones trying hardest to be human.
– phorone robot (respect the thighs) : full article
– btw: Kokoro also have a pimp rental hotline, incidentally, where you can rent some of their gynoids. I haven’t the guts (or long-distance coinage) to ring them. Or for that matter, anywhere near enough conversational Japanese to wing it. But there’s a ton of social experiments waiting to be carried out with a few varying scripts.