Hiroshi Ishiguro Explains Humanoid Robot Research in Denmark

In the News
June 02, 2016

ODENSE, Denmark — Not only can humanoid robots interact more naturally with people, but they can also help us consider important questions about ourselves, said Hiroshi Ishiguro during his keynote speech yesterday at RoboBusiness Europe 2016.

Ishiguro is a distinguished professor at Osaka University‘s Department of Systems Innovation, visiting director of ATR Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, and research director of the JST ERATO ISHIGURO Symbiotic HRI Project. He is best known for his android replicas, which are among the most lifelike created so far.

The human-robot interaction researcher took the stage after greetings by Marianne Andersen, CEO of RoboBusiness Europe, and Anker Boye, Odense‘s mayor. Robotics Business Review is a sponsor of the conference, which is collocated with the Nordic UAS [Unmanned Aerial Systems] Event.

“This is my first time to give a regular talk in this country, about ‘Robots and Our Future Life.’ Usually, it’s about every creepy robot,” Ishiguro joked.

He noted that he has visited the country every year since 2011 because he is running collaborative projects with Danish universities and the Danish Technological Institute (DTI).

Ishiguro showed a slide of a fourth-generation copy of himself, which represents how he was when he turned 41. “Just as I’ve been improving the robot, I’ve been improving myself,” he said.

More seriously, Ishiguro asked, “What kind of knowledge can we get from a very humanlike robot?”

His Geminoid is a tele-operated android. “The goal is [for it to be] fully autonomous, but it needs to learn speech patterns,” he said. “The voice contains a lot of information, and we use a simple tele-operation system.”

Unpacking the self
Ishiguro noted that because he is in high demand as a lecturer, it’s easier to send his replica than to travel around the world more than he already does. Ishiguro recently gave a speech on short notice through his robot to the parliament of Chile, a 31-hour flight away.

“One characteristic of the fourth generation of my copy is that it’s portable,” Ishiguro said. “It breaks down into two pieces, plus the head, which is fragile — for carry on. A young professor can travel economy, cheaper than me, at half of business-class [airfare].”

“The robot can’t answer complicated questions, so I was tele-operating it from Japan,” he said. “But who has Ishiguro’s identity?”

“You’re interested in seeing the robot, not my body,” he noted. “I’m not creating this robot for fun but to deeply understand human nature.”

Android history
The first version of Ishiguro’s android received a lot of media attention in 2009. More recently, Ishiguro discussed “Autonomous Conversational Androids” at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

“SXSW started as a music festival, and it is now the biggest festival for interactive technologies and startups,” he explained. “Osaka University and NTT sponsored the presentation. NTT is the biggest telecom company in Japan, and it is interested in supporting speech recognition and chatbot technology.”

“People at SXSW enjoyed it very much,” Ishiguro said. “In USA Today, people said Pres. Obama was best presentation, then mine, from a technology standpoint.”

Why humanoid robots?
“In the U.S., there seems to be a preference for nonhumanoid robots, like Amazon Echo or Jibo,” Ishiguro said. “Our forecast is for more humanoid robots, but it could be cultural for Japanese.”

Ishiguro went on to describe his vision of a collaborative (but not necessarily industrial) future in which interactive robots and humans are together in daily situations such as a train station.

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