Friday, January 28, 2005

Sony QRIO: He, She, or It?

I had the good fortune today of seeing Sony's humaniod robot and corporate ambassador, QRIO. QRIO is an impressive thing, even more impressive than Honda's ASIMO, in my opinion. It's smaller, but more independent, autonomous. Technically, it's a modern marvel. It can stand up after being pushed over. When it falls, it even braces itself with its arms to protect its head. The bipedal balance is great; face and voice recognition is impressive; stereo vision and listening is quite amazing; the movement is very expressive... but...

One audience member at the demo raised the interesting question of gender. Does QRIO have a gender? One of the Sony people giving the demo had been alternately referring to QRIO as "he" and "it." Another researcher used the feminine pronoun "her." In answer to the question, they sort of joked about it, and their answer boiled down to "it doesn't really matter."

I thought this was too bad. QRIO is being developed with human-robot communication in mind. QRIO is supposed to connect with people on an emotional, affective level. The simple choice of a gender would be a huge step towards defining a character for QRIO to which people would relate much more readily. Choosing an age would help too. For instance, QRIO reminds me of a little boy; if they made that choice consciously and made it concrete, QRIO would be far more interesting to interact with.

In my own work with robots, particularly with bringing NASA robotic exploration missions to the public, I tend to assign a gender to each in my head. NASA robots aren't even humanoid, but somehow their autonomy cries out to be characterized. Zoë, a CMU robot that I work with on a regular basis, has always been female in my mind, and in public education materials, I refer to Zoë as "her." The roboticists that I work with were surprised the first time they heard me do this. Perhaps, growing up around boats, which are traditionally feminine, put that in my mind, or perhaps, my artistic and dramatic background causes me to have a different outlook than your average engineer.

In any case, I urge anyone working on robots to consider this issue, especially in relation to humanoid or entertainment robots.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Triumph of the Right Brain

Well... I've known and believed this for a long time, but it seems the establishment is starting to consciously recognize the importance of artists to commercial ventures. This article in Wired Magazine talks about some reasons why.

While I'm not sure I believe all the reasons, I do find it heartening (and validating) to hear that others think artists are important to the economy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

2 Links via Grumpy Gamer

The inimitable Grumpy Gamer has two links that I found amusing:

What if...

Postal Experiments

Enjoy. And if you haven't tried Grumpy Gamer, give it a go; you might like it.

[Yeah... I just used a semi-colon in a blog.]

Friday, January 14, 2005

Robot Insurance

This is an old Saturday Night Live skit, but it's even funnier now that I work with robots on a regular basis.

Robot Insurance

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Put an Artist in Power...

Antanas Mockus was mayor of Bogota, Columbia. I hadn't heard of him before, but I just read this article at the Harvard Gazette. Here's a couple choice quotes:

People were desperate for a change, for a moral leader of some sort. The eccentric Mockus, who communicates through symbols, humor, and metaphors, filled the role. When many hated the disordered and disorderly city of Bogotá, he wore a Superman costume and acted as a superhero called "Supercitizen." People laughed at Mockus' antics, but the laughter began to break the ice of their extreme skepticism.


"The distribution of knowledge is the key contemporary task," Mockus said. "Knowledge empowers people. If people know the rules, and are sensitized by art, humor, and creativity, they are much more likely to accept change."

The idea that art/humor/creativity are what sensitize people to the rules of society seems particularly powerful to me. Not that I needed another reason to believe in the importance of art, but this is such an eloquent testimony to the prominent place art should hold in the world.

This is what happens when you put an artist in power. Awesome.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Tsunami Relief

My family donated some money to the tsunami relief effort through the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that does good work. If you haven't given anything yet, I'd urge you to donate.