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Coffee better than ibuprofen at relieving workout pain
Behold Morgui. The robot was built by Kevin Warwick, a well-known UK roboticist at the University of Reading, as a “rapid reaction” bot — it has sensors in its eyes that let it track where people are in the room and stare at them. Apparently this has so totally freaked out observers that Reading’s ethics committee told Warwick he couldn’t show it to minors, or use them in any experiments involving Morgui. As Warwick told The Guardian:
“We want to investigate how people react when they first encounter Mo, as we lovingly like to call the robot,” said Prof Warwick. “Through one of Mo’s eyes, he can watch people’s responses to him following them around. It appears this is not deemed acceptable for under 18-year-olds without prior consent from their legal guardian. This presents us with a big problem as we cannot demonstrate Mo in action either to visitors or potential students.”
For years, I’ve been writing about the Uncanny Valley effect — the idea that when simulations of human life become too super-realistic, they become creepy. I’ve generally only written about this in the context of video games, but this reminds me that the Uncanny Valley idea came originally from a roboticist, Masahiro Mori, when he noticed that his most realistic bots were giving observers the willies.
Of course, it probably doesn’t help that Morgui looks like a T-800 Terminator without the artificial skin. Warwick might have had more luck if he’d put his gear inside a Care Bear o something.
Though maybe not! A couple of years ago, I saw MIT’s Cynthia Breazeal show off Leonardo, a little furry robot with big anime eyes. When she turned it on, a collective shudder went through the audience: Leonardo was about 99% “lifelike”, and thus had tumbled decisively into the Valley. He looked insanely creepy and haunts my dreams still. Breazeal seemed puzzled by our reaction, and claims kids really love Leonardo, so maybe we were an outlying group … but honestly, it thoroughly unsettled me. So maybe a robot’s being designed to be “cute” or not doesn’t ultimately impact whether it goes Uncanny or not. After all, a Roomba is technically as “robotic” looking as Morgui … but Roombas are so low-fi and un-Uncanny that they’re adorable.
(Thanks to El Rey for this one!)
I'm Clive Thompson, a writer on science, technology, and culture. This blog collects bits of offbeat research I'm running into, and musings thereon.
Currently, I'm a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. I also write for Fast Company and Wired magazine's web site, among other places. Email or AOL IM me (pomeranian99) to say hi or send in something strange!
May 20, 2011 » 02:28 PM
From Christopher Kennedy’s very droll book “Neitzsche’s Horse”.
July 28, 2010 » 07:35 AM
“Wr” - S
July 06, 2010 » 10:05 AM
My Xbox broke, and I was trying to Google some possible technical solutions, when I noticed that Google appears to be encouraging me to make a typo. I suppose it’s possible that Google’s algorithms know that typing “wont” instead of “won’t” would produce better results.
June 29, 2010 » 05:00 PM
On the other hand, when I tried the test for multitasking, I was pretty abysmal. I performed worse than people who identify themselves as heavy multitaskers, and those who identify as low multitaskers.
June 29, 2010 » 04:58 PM
I finally got around to trying out the interactive “test your distractability and multitasking” page at the New York Times, which they put up alongside their story earlier this month about how computer distractions are eroding our lives.
According to the test, I guess I have good focus — I’m not very distractable!
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