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Karl F. MacDorman & Hiroshi Ishiguro talk with and answer a few questions about this month's Fast Breaking Paper in the field of Social Sciences, general. The authors have also sent along images of their work.
MacDorman commentary image Article Title: The uncanny advantage of using androids in cognitive and social science research
Authors: MacDorman, KF;Ishiguro, H
Volume: 7
Issue: 3
Page: 297-337
Year: 2006
* Indiana Univ, Sch Informat, IT 487,535 W Michigan St, Indianapolis, IN 46202 USA.
* Indiana Univ, Sch Informat, Indianapolis, IN 46202 USA.
* Osaka Univ, Grad Sch Engn, Dept Adapt Machine Syst, Suita, Osaka 5650871, Japan.

 Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

This target article with commentaries and rebuttal is seminal in the establishment of android science as a field of inquiry. It makes the strongest case yet for android science. Android science posits a synergistic relation between developing very humanlike robots and understanding human interaction and the processes behind it. Android science provides synthetic and analytical methods to understand mechanisms underlying interaction.

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To make androids humanlike, we must study human interaction, and to evaluate models of human interaction fully, we need to implement them in androids. This lets us determine whether the models are "true to life" in interactions with real people. By using androids instead of other kinds of robots, we control for the unknown influence of nonhuman appearance on interaction. This enables us to concentrate on the microdynamics of human interaction, including motion quality, contingency, and learning, instead of the appearance of the robot.

 Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

What's new about android science is its methodology: An android is used as an experimental apparatus in psychological or neuroscientific experiments to test hypotheses about human brains and interaction—or the android acts as a testbed in which cognitive models are implemented and tested by observing the android's interactions with people. Both of these approaches demonstrate how androids can be used to test and refine social, cognitive, and neuroscientific theories. Thus, the focus is on human beings, not robots.

In addition to being a position paper, the article reviews the literature on android science, which is still scant, and presents some empirical findings on the uncanny valley. The robotics professor Masahiro Mori graphed what he considered to be the relation between human likeness and perceived familiarity: familiarity increases with human likeness until a point is reached at which subtle imperfections cause a robot to appear creepy. He called this the uncanny valley. According to Mori, movement amplifies the effect.

So the uncanny valley is the phenomenon of "not quite" human entities appearing creepy. Although there was a strong dogma against building androids because of the uncanny valley, it turns out to be useful in android science. A human form makes nonhuman responses observable, because they look odd. That lets us know how to refine our models. A mechanical-looking robot just isn't good at this.

Many people have been duplicating the uncanny valley figure. We recently learned it had appeared on a television program called 30 Rock. A student also posted to YouTube one of our presentations on the uncanny valley.

 Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman's terms?

Androids offer special advantages over human actors in helping to refine theories about human interaction. For example, in reviewing a paper we wrote with Shoji Itakura, Takashi Minato, and Stephen Cowley, "Assessing Human Likeness by Eye Contact in an Android Testbed" in Proceedings of the XXVII Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Stresa, Italy, 2005, we discussed an experiment in which an android sat with a participant and asked him or her several questions, some of which required thinking. People tend to break eye contact during conversations if they must think about a response. How participants broke eye contact in the experiment depended on whether they thought the android was controlled by a human or acting of its own accord.

When Japanese participants thought the android was under human control, they showed modesty by looking down—just as they would when interacting with a real person. It was the first time anyone has shown that what they believe about the mind of the other entity—human or machine?—influences how they break eye contact. The results also show the importance of cultural norms in automatic, nonverbal behavior. Previous theories about why we break eye contact while thinking completely missed this effect.

In addition, the paper explores alternative explanations of the uncanny valley, from evolved cognitive mechanisms used in avoiding disease and selecting mates to the social construction of personal and human identity. The article also presents evidence that an uncanny android can produce a terror management response. Each of us possesses a worldview that helps to give our transitory lives meaning. If an uncanny android subconsciously reminds us of our mortality, it can create a strong aversion to people who threaten our worldview. In this sense, an uncanny android has something in common with the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

 Prof. MacDorman, how did you become involved in this research with Prof. Ishiguro, and were there any problems along the way?

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My research at Cambridge in the mid-1990s concerned the problem of symbol grounding and symbol emergence. Robots seemed like an obvious testbed for exploring cognitive models of how infants and nonhuman animals develop internal representations. However, I was also concerned with how children come to use the external symbols of human language. When I met Hiroshi Ishiguro (then at Kyoto University) and Minoru Asada at Osaka University in 1997, this seemed like a natural area in which to explore human-robot interaction. Hiroshi Ishiguro proposed controlling for the effects of appearance by using androids.

Android science is a new interdisciplinary framework for studying human cognition and interaction based on the finding that humanlike robots can elicit the sorts of responses people direct toward each other. As a result androids can be used as stand-ins for human participants in social, psychological, cognitive, and neuroscientific experiments. This brings several advantages. First, as an experimental apparatus, an android can be more precisely controlled than a human actor. Second, unlike a video or computer simulation of a human being, an android has physical presence. Third, in comparing human-human and human-android interaction, an android controls for the effects of appearance. For many experiments, an android offers a good balance between experimental control and ecological validity in supporting humanlike interaction.

There is always difficulty in conducting research in android science, because androids have not reached the stage of being reliable, mass produced products. In addition, experiments often require the integration of many different kinds of equipment, including sensor networks, image processing, voice recognition, and so on. Robotics research in the United States is not well funded, but that will surely change as funding bodies come to realize the enormous potential of android science.

 Where do you see your research leading in the future?

We have both been fascinated by the relation between the microdynamics of human interaction and symbol emergence, relationship formation, and cultural norms. One of us (Karl MacDorman) has recently received an IUPUI Signature Center grant to start an Android Science Center in Indianapolis along with our collaborator Chen Yu—the founder and leader of The Computational Cognition and Learning Lab of The Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington.

We are presently developing an android baby with anatomically correct muscle-joint relations and opposing-pairs of elastic muscles to simulate the appearance and movement of a human baby. We will use the android baby and a similarly-sized robot to study how appearance influences timing and contingency in infant and adult interactions.

 Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

Through hypothesis testing and cognitive modeling, android science can contribute to basic science, such as our understanding of the perception of human and nonhuman forms. However, it also results in principles for interaction design. How do we create robots and computer graphics characters that are more responsive and appealing? And the end-product of this research—besides the basic science and design principles—is a physical artifact that mimics human appearance, dynamics, and interactivity as closely as current science and technology allow. Such a device has myriad applications that would impact society.

Hiroshi Ishiguro is already using his Geminoid double to let him remotely sit in on meetings. Our collaborators at Kokoro Co., Ltd. have built an android receptionist and museum guide.

Androids are useful for training and assessment, for example, as a realistic replacement for medical dummies, with their ability to simulate cardiac arrest or other medical conditions, such as changing speech, behavior, and vital signs. Other applications include the socialization of children with autism or other disabilities and training social workers and counselors.

With the retirement of the baby boomers, the United States, Europe, and especially Japan are faced with a labor shortage in healthcare and eldercare. Androids can encourage exercise to fight obesity and coronary heart disease and assist with rehabilitation after a stroke. In addition, they can provide cognitive stimulation, to keep the mind nimble as we age. And finally, they can be a source of companionship, alleviating loneliness.

However, as we better understand nonverbal behavior, androids could be used to manipulate human judgment. Overly compliant androids could also feed our narcissism. These could be ethical concerns in the future.

There is much to be said for the challenges posed by human relationships. They may make us into better people in the long run.

Karl F. MacDorman, Ph.D. (Cambridge) (Web)
Associate Professor, Human-Computer Interaction Program
Indiana University School of Informatics
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Adjunct Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Purdue University School of Engineering and Technology
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Hiroshi Ishiguro, Ph.D. (Osaka)
Professor, Department of Adaptive Machine Systems
Graduate School of Engineering
Osaka University
Osaka, Japan (Web)
Visiting Group Leader of the Department of Communication Robots
ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories
Kyoto, Japan (Web)

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Keywords: androids, android science, new interdisciplinary framework for studying human cognition and interaction, humanlike robots, microdynamics of human interaction, human-robot interaction, the uncanny valley, Masahiro Mori, human likeness, perceived familiarity, human form, nonhuman responses, assessing human likeness, why we break eye contact, android testbed, cultural norms, nonverbal behavior, evolved cognitive mechanisms, avoiding disease, selecting mates, social construction, personal and human identity, uncanny android, mortality, symbol grounding, symbol emergence, cognitive models, infants and nonhuman animals, develop internal representations, stand-ins for human participants, social, psychological, cognitive, and neuroscientific experiments, robots, computer graphics characters, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Geminoid double, android receptionist, android museum guide, useful for training and assessment, realistic replacement for medical dummies, socialization of children with autism or other disabilities, training social workers and counselors, overly compliant androids, our narcissism, ethical concerns, challenges posed by human relationships.


2008 : June 2008 - Fast Breaking Papers : Karl F. MacDorman & Hiroshi Ishiguro
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