Friday, September 14, 2007

Do Androids Dream of Electric Diapers?

Tired of temper tantrums, schlepping back and forth from preschool, and fishing Legos out of the toilet? Well, your days of waiting for the perfect child may be at an end. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Zeno:

At 17 inches tall and 6 pounds, the artificial Zeno is the culmination of five years of work by Hanson Robotics. They believe there's an emerging business in the design and sale of lifelike robotic companions, or social robots... Unlike clearly artificial robotic toys, Hanson says he envisions Zeno as an interactive learning companion, a synthetic pal who can engage in conversation and convey human emotion through a face made of a skin-like, patented material Hanson calls frubber.

Robotics, Hanson believes, should be about artistic expression, a creative medium akin to sculpting or painting. But convincing people that robots should look like people instead of, well, robots, remains a challenge that robot experts call the "uncanny valley" theory.
...or as one consumer asked, "If you could create any kind of artificial boy, why would you make one that looks like it's about to have diarrhea and cry?"

Another theory is that owning an artificial child whose unfeeling eyes exude the blank stare of a programmed killer will actually encourage parents to build better relationships with their own real child, if only in the fearful hope that he or she will eventually protect them on the terrifying day that Zeno develops a taste for human flesh, and the world must bow before the mighty frubber fist of its new robotic emperor.

Also, he can play DVDs!

[Cross-posted at The Cleaver.]