This is the flip side of those Boston Dynamics videos the Internet has been oohing and ahhing over for years. Boston Dynamics specializes in robotic motion. They started with robot “dogs” and worked their way up to humanoid robots capable of doing backflips and performing parkour-type stunts. When your friend texts you a link to a YouTube clip with the caption, “We’re all gonna die,” you know before clicking that it’s a Boston Dynamics video.
The one small mercy with BD’s creations is that they’re faceless, which is how it should be. When the robots come for me, I want them to look like the ED-209, not like the Terminator. Don’t mock humanity by creating the instruments of our destruction in our image.
Make it impersonal. Do it clean.
Engineered Arts, a UK robotics firm, has taken the opposite approach. Their robots can’t walk — yet. The company is working on that, but their focus to date has been on re-creating lifelike facial expressions. They view their creation, “Ameca,” as a “platform” that will ultimately accomplish different tasks depending on what the buyer needs: “The modular architecture allows for future upgrades, both physically and software to enhance Ameca’s abilities, all without having to fork out for an entire new robot.” But for now, because of the gee-whiz factor in the robot’s facial appearance, they’re emphasizing its entertainment potential. “Ameca is also a great attraction, just like our Mesmer and RoboThespian robots,” the company’s website notes. “Wow your customers or visitors at an event or visitor attraction.”
I do feel wowed watching this. I feel a lot of things, actually. It’s not great.
“All modules can run independently so you can have just a head” if you like, the website assures us. Won’t that be nice, having a disembodied head sitting on your coffee table, mugging at you.
EA also apparently produces robots with something approximating human skin. The photo on this page looks like a corpse after the mortician went too heavy on the foundation make-up.
Maybe we’ll all feel better about this as the company perfects the science and ends up with something whose facial contortions are indistinguishable from a human being’s, a true “Westworld” moment. But until then, it’s always unpleasant paying a visit to the uncanny valley. And this particular trip has left us at an unusually deep spot.
Don’t be too anxious, though. The end won’t truly be near until Boston Dynamics and Engineered Arts merge and create Skynet. I’ll leave you with this clip of the firm’s CEO explaining how the machine’s look was designed to be gender-neutral and race-neutral. Ameca is woke!
Cornwall-based Engineered Arts has designed a hyper-realistic humanoid robot, Ameca pic.twitter.com/Fg2qXlh0UI
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 3, 2021