If you're reading this in Japan, then it might be worth toddling over to the "Android: What is a Human" show currently exhibiting at Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. There, you can see Kodomoroid and Otonaroid — meaning "child robot" and "adult robot" — that look strangely real, but at the same time have the slow and deliberate movements of the highly medicated/somehow inebriated. The two of them read the news — although Otonaroid fluffed her lines, apparently — and cracked a few jokes at the expense of their creator, Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro.
Professor Ishiguro told assembled reporters that "our goal is to put to use and to promote various robots that can be useful in a wide range of fields throughout society." This pair, however, have been sent by Ishiguro to the museum on a fact-finding mission. Their job is to interact with the humans who come to the exhibition and then send the data back to the Prof. "This will give us important data as we explore the question of what is human," he said. "We want robots to become increasingly clever."
And increasingly cheap. Earlier this month, Japanese firm SoftBank launched Pepper, a sub $2,000 robot that provides front-of-house in the firm's tech stores, but that also could eventually provide companionship for the elderly — a big issue for Japan, whose birth rate is falling. And how far we've come. Less than a decade ago, you could still get robots that looked after the elderly, but they looked like — well, they looked like robots.
Last year, Japan launched the first ever robot into space. Kirobo was sent up to the International Space Station. And, maybe proof that robots still have a bit of a way to go before they are to be considered human beings, Kirobo travelled in the cargo hold, not in first class. Maybe when the software is good enough to pass the Turing Test, however, things will change.