She can’t move her arms, but she can strike up a conversation with familiar faces in a room.
Robotics may be advancing at a rapid pace, but as engineers come closer to replicating a human subject, the “uncanny valley” paradox — the “creepy” factor of humanoid robots — seems to grow with every step forward. Recent developments from Japan in the case of Erica, touted as the humanoid robot “with a soul,” are unlikely to reverse that trend any time soon.
Erica’s mastery of vocabulary, impromptu conversation, and even reading have readied her for a gig replacing a human news anchor on live television. Erica will use her artificial intelligence capabilities to read the news and offer commentary. Erica’s appearance as a news anchor comes after roughly four years of lobbying her the robot’s creator, Hiroshi Ishiguro.
According to a (for lack of better term) “bio” on the robot, Erica is meant to approximate a 23-year-old human woman. Using her audio processing, sensors, and facial recognition software, Erica can ascertain who in a room is speaking to her and direct a cogent response to them directly.
While Erica has yet to make her debut as an anchor, she has put her abilities on full display over the course of her development, such as in this video from February 2018.
Surprisingly, Erica will not be the first artificial entity to anchor a news telecast. In 2015, Microsoft put Xiaoice, an AI-powered chatbot on a Chinese morning news program as a weather host.
Though Erica will be physically present during her telecast, don’t expect too much from her in the way of gesticulation or movement. Despite boasting advanced software, she is incapable of moving her arms, suiting her well to a desk job as a talking head.
While Erica’s advancement marks exciting progress for robotics engineers, the robot’s “architect,” Dylan Glas, has loftier — and perhaps more unsettling — hopes for his creation. “What we really want to do is have a robot which can think and act and do everything completely on its own,” he said.