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Sweaty, Anxious Robots Are the Future

If my many years of consuming vast amounts of media have taught me anything, it’s that eventually, we’ll make robots and those robots will inevitably rise against us. Movies, television, video games and books all try to impart the same lesson, but we refuse to listen. I get it, I really do. Robots are cool. Or rather, they’re cool right up to the point where they start getting goosebumps and sweating on us in an effort to gain our trust.

Having likely never seen Terminator, read I, Robot or witnessed the near-extinction of the Quarian race at the hands of the Geth (that’s Mass Effect, for you non-gamers), teams of Roboticists are ignoring our warnings as they continue their work on creating realistic robots — or robots that behave like humans, because apparently, a robot that behaves like a robot just won’t do.

They’re trying to accomplish this by focusing on the little details, the things you might not notice when interacting with a fellow human, but it’s stuff you would almost definitely notice, even subconsciously, when interacting with a robot. Things like making eye contact, using hand gestures, or expelling air when it talks is fine with me, I wouldn’t have my robot any other way. It’s the idea that we’re now working on robots that get goosebumps when told a ghost story, which I’m honestly having trouble wrapping my mind around, that starts to weird me out.

As if that’s not creepy enough, Professor Tomoko Yonezawa is leading a research team at Kansai University in Osaka, Japan that’s currently working on a robot head that actually sweats.

You might ask, “Couldn’t a robot just state its intentions and ‘feelings’ instead of needing this subtle and complex cue system?” According to research at Georgia Tech, sometimes we actually feel uneasy when the robot explicitly states its intent before an action. It’s just… awkward.

What’s more, Yonezawa says that “sometimes we make facial expressions that are different from what’s going on in our mind.” In contrast, involuntary behaviors reveal our “true feelings,” and by giving robot these capabilities, we could feel more at ease with them, because we would be able to read their intentions.

So that’s the future, folks. You excited yet?


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