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Robot wiz: Your next phone could be a Telenoid

Japan's Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro sees the day when a mini android that lets you "feel" the presence of the party on the other line could replace cell phones.

Imagine a phone that could feel. Damian Koh/CNET Asia

With child-like eyes staring out from an expressionless face, the Telenoid R1 does look a little creepy. But if Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Japan's Osaka University has his way, a miniature Telenoid that lets you "feel" the presence of the party on the other line could soon replace the cell phones of today. It turns out the future could be just around the corner as the roboticist said a prototype of the mobile "Elfoid" would be ready in a few months.

Speaking today at the sneak preview of the Singapore-based Asia on the Edge festival--an annual showcase of ideas and cultures from Asia--Ishiguro is most regarded for his development of lifelike androids. He has even created a mechanical doppelganger of himself called Geminoid in his bid to understand humans. Ishiguro controls his motorized twin remotely with a motion-tracking Webcam that captures voice, facial expressions, and head movements over a high-speed network.

The most difficult task, he said, is to have a human-like conversation. Ishiguro's surrogate doesn't have the sophisticated capabilities of avatars depicted in the movies, but it produces enough of an estimate to dupe people into regarding the bot as a human.

While his previous creations replicate in detail the features of a real person, the Telenoid simply looks like an overgrown fetus with a bald head and abbreviated limbs. With the minimal design of the Telenoid, this forces people to use their imaginations to make the interaction more personal.

At the same time, Ishiguro is looking at what he calls the maximum design of a human with richer facial expressions and teleoperated by a professional.

Much of Ishiguro's work has provoked deep questions about man, machine, and humanity. With the Elfoid, users can feel the presence of the person on the other line and, when in the hands, becomes "part of your body."

Telenoid R1
All hail the Telonoid lord. Damian Koh/CNET Asia

Although Ishiguro didn't go into the specifics of how the Elfoid would work, iNAGO CEO Ron DiCarlantonio, who was also at the preview today, thinks natural language reasoning will pave the way for artificial intelligence. The concept of a conversational interface, he said, isn't something confined to sci-fi movies as enablers such as the next-generation network, smart devices, and speech recognition are already in place.

When asked how he responds to comments that his Telenoid appears creepy, Ishiguro simply shrugged his shoulders and said that "it is not creepy."

He added that humans tend to get confused when they see a new design, but they will adapt to it. If we are communicating with a friend via the Telenoid, we can imagine his face on the Telenoid's face. Likewise, if the little Telenoids were to embrace each other, we'd be able to feel the hug.

With the android, Ishiguro's ongoing research, he said, is "always to understand myself and humans."

(Source: Crave Asia)