You will be assimilated
March 17, 2009 12:48 PM   Subscribe

The future is now! Her name is HRP 4C, coming soon to your dreams (or nightmares) from JapanCorp.

Feel fear: "The robotic framework for the HRP-4C without the face and other coverings will go on sale for about 20 million yen (US$200,000) each, and its programming technology will be made public so other people can come up with fun moves for the robot, the scientists said."
posted by Chocolate Pickle (53 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I saw this morning and got distracted by work otherwise I would have posted it.

R. Daneel just got wood. Uh -- so to speak.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:51 PM on March 17, 2009


The uses for model robots in the fashion industry are exciting, if obvious. Imagine thousands of screaming HRP 4Cs stampeding in their quest to demo their programming in front of a robotic Tyra Banks. It's a good time to be alive.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:52 PM on March 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here's another take on it:
I have a problem with no less than three (3) parties on account of this article: 1) Yuri Kageyama, Business Writer, 2) the robot-makers, and 3) the fashion industry representatives quoted. It is a fabulous trifecta of misogyny, made only more glorious because it is about ROBOTS. Who doesn't love robots!!

They are certainly being designed for traditional female roles - receptionist, runway model, in-home care or nursing assistant, etc. More importantly is this particular robot, which has a female body even though apparently it's much more difficult to make a functional (in this case, walking) robot with an "average" female shape. But having a female robot body was too important to let that stop them! They devoted all their robot-making resources to making it this way - I mean, who would want a male receptionist robot? HA! Don't be silly! This way we can use them for fashion!
posted by arcticwoman at 12:56 PM on March 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well hello, Uncanny Valley! Jeebus. Why do they keep trying to make them lifelike?? Robby the Robot never gave me the shivers, at least.
posted by emjaybee at 12:57 PM on March 17, 2009


Just stick to making robots, robotic. No need to make them look human when all you are doing is making them creepy.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:59 PM on March 17, 2009


She's not gonna get very far in fashion with that built-in uni-boob. That, and "HRP" reads as "herp" to me, and evoking the notion of STIs (or snakes?) isn't good for business, even with robots.
posted by explosion at 12:59 PM on March 17, 2009


Someday, creepy womanbots will wipe your butt at the old folks home!
posted by emjaybee at 12:59 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon: "Imagine thousands of screaming HRP 4Cs stampeding in their quest to demo their programming in front of a robotic Tyra Banks."

A robotic Tyra Banks
posted by Joe Beese at 12:59 PM on March 17, 2009


I will not be satisfied with android technology until they are sufficiently advanced enough to
A) Sneer Contemptuously, while
B) Clutching a Knife, and
C) Advancing Upon My Family.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:00 PM on March 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


I eagerly await bipedal robots that don't walk like recovering car accident victims and don't sound like a secretarial pool when they do it.

Also, yeah, there is something creepy real-doll-like about the desire to replace an objectified woman with a womanified object.
posted by idiopath at 1:01 PM on March 17, 2009 [13 favorites]


Whoever marries this technology with sex dolls is bound to make a fortune. I guess until then it will be another ten years of utilitarian industrial taskings for these robots.
posted by crapmatic at 1:02 PM on March 17, 2009


It's nice to know the 21st Century is turning out to be as insane as we all hoped it would be.
posted by The Whelk at 1:02 PM on March 17, 2009 [9 favorites]


You think that will give you nightmares? Try this. This robotics guy actually made a robot of himself. From the doc Mechanical Love.
posted by meerkatty at 1:04 PM on March 17, 2009


Someone please tell that robot to stop slouching -- my knees hurt just from watching her try to walk.
posted by ook at 1:06 PM on March 17, 2009


Japan is weirder than France.
posted by jdotglenn at 1:12 PM on March 17, 2009


I assume that that bent-at-the-knees Groucho-esque walk is for the sake of stability--correct? It's interesting that it doesn't feel particularly stable when you try to imitate it. Bipedalism is obviously insanely complicated. Score 1 for evolution, .5 and rising for Japanese roboticists.

As for the "OMG they made it look like a woman" outrage--I'm a bit underwhelmed. If they only made robots that looked like men, wouldn't that rather imply that men were the "normal" human shape and that women were the "aberrant" human shape? If we want robots that "look like people" (which we may well), then they should look like both male and female people, shouldn't they?
posted by yoink at 1:14 PM on March 17, 2009


not amused
posted by DreamerFi at 1:15 PM on March 17, 2009


Not quite there yet, but roboporn is clearly walking the catwalk toward us. Then the deviants will want a piece of the action. Legal issue incoming: is it child porn if the child is a *robot*? "Get yours here, the new Michael Jackson-approved Sanyo Molestbot(tm)!" The future looks stranger every time I open my eyes and look at the present.
posted by jamstigator at 1:16 PM on March 17, 2009


jdotglenn: "Japan is weirder than France."

You're just saying that because of the tentacle rape porn.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:18 PM on March 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Our circus of the senses now arrives by steamboat in New Orleans, circa 2873. The muted lament of a trombone resonates through the fog, which lingers even now months after the attack of the fog monster. With but one hope of restoring Gearoticus to his throne, our sensual fate rests in the gyrations of ... Fanny.

Oh, yeah...ah...ah.
posted by No Robots at 1:26 PM on March 17, 2009


No real women in the modelling industry indeed.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 1:29 PM on March 17, 2009


As for the "OMG they made it look like a woman" outrage--I'm a bit underwhelmed. If they only made robots that looked like men, wouldn't that rather imply that men were the "normal" human shape and that women were the "aberrant" human shape? If we want robots that "look like people" (which we may well), then they should look like both male and female people, shouldn't they?
men are a normal shape. women are a normal shape. young girls with big tits? in sailor outfits? not normal.
posted by klanawa at 1:32 PM on March 17, 2009


When can I get a job shooting them?
posted by cjorgensen at 1:33 PM on March 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


As for the "OMG they made it look like a woman" outrage--I'm a bit underwhelmed. If they only made robots that looked like men, wouldn't that rather imply that men were the "normal" human shape and that women were the "aberrant" human shape?

I get what you're saying, and you're right to a point. The problem isn't that they made a robot look like a woman - the point is that when making robots intentioned for jobs which tend to be done by human females, they had to make sure that we knew the robot was also female.

Idiopath said it well:
Also, yeah, there is something creepy real-doll-like about the desire to replace an objectified woman with a womanified object.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:35 PM on March 17, 2009


I'd like to get up in her uncanny valley. Maybe they can get it to say "Oh, Frank you're the best, you're the champ, you're the master," too.
posted by adipocere at 1:40 PM on March 17, 2009


I eagerly await bipedal robots that don't walk like recovering car accident victims...

She's a model. That's probably just the Robo-Lax kicking in.
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:42 PM on March 17, 2009


the point is that when making robots intentioned for jobs which tend to be done by human females, they had to make sure that we knew the robot was also female.

I don't see much in any of the links about this robot being intended for "jobs which tend to be done by human females." The blog piece someone linked to above got a lot of mileage out of the idea that this robot was intended for receptionist work, but that isn't, in fact, what the Newsweek article she links to says (it says that some other roboticists have experimented with robot receptionists--without mentioning their gender).

Of course, it's easy enough to predict that "female" robots will, in fact, disproportionally end up in roles in which people are comfortable seeing female humans. That's a "well DUH!" kinda insight, though. The problem there is that we live in a sexist society--fix the sexist expectations and you fix the robot (and human) "typecasting." But it doesn't seem to be a reason to unload on the guys making this as yet un-type-cast robot.
posted by yoink at 1:48 PM on March 17, 2009


young girls with big tits? in sailor outfits? not normal

You know some damn strange sailors. Or perhaps you meant to write "Imperial Stormtrooper outfits"?
posted by yoink at 2:00 PM on March 17, 2009


the point is that when making robots intentioned for jobs which tend to be done by human females, they had to make sure that we knew the robot was also female.

Although I don't see any evidence that the robot is going to do work traditionally done by women (modelling on a catwalk excepted), I think your point is brilliant. I never thought of it that way.

Men and women have the shape they do for specific reasons. Child rearing, antelope smashing, etc. But with men, their shape is defined largely by the musculature which is enlarged solely for strength, so it makes sense from one perspective to use a male-shaped body to hide the mechanisms that emulate the strength. But why does a robot need breasts, other than to cue it as a female top humans for purposes of social stereotyping.

But why make a robot look human at all? The human body is suboptimal for both heavy labor and speed. It certainly doesn't make sense from the standpoint of making humans more comfortable - we all know it isn't human, it doesn't have anything remotely approaching a human brain - so making it look human won't make us interact with it as if it is. And human keep animals as pets, and none of those animals are even bidpedal. So I don't get it.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:03 PM on March 17, 2009


Also, the hand on hip, over-the-shoulder come-hither stare is a bit over the top.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:05 PM on March 17, 2009


When I talk about the robot being a womanified object, I am not just talking about her creators/programmers, but of course also the expectations of her audience (because this is for the moment a robotic performer, useful for the spectacle it creates). I don't think it is accidental that they had the robot perform "feminine" gestures, and it takes a purposeful thickheadedness to discount the relationship between the servility of traditional feminine roles and the servile nature of a robot. A machine which you create is a blank slate to create the help-meet and servant you desire, it lacks its own legitimate experience and subjectivity, so of course we tend imagine our robots as soldiers, manual laborers, or women.
posted by idiopath at 2:06 PM on March 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


idiopath: "this is for the moment a robotic performer, useful for the spectacle it creates"

I caught a glance of that phrase and thought it referred to Britney Spears.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:21 PM on March 17, 2009


(hrp 4c) (have to speak to them in RPN) (problem is).
posted by GuyZero at 2:22 PM on March 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


From the Newsweek article linked from Shakespeare's Sister:
The robot shown Monday has 30 motors in its body that allows it to walk and move its arms as well as eight motors on its face to create expressions like anger and surprise.
Why does it need to show anger? WHY DOES IT NEED TO SHOW ANGER???!! And the surprise? Is it so that it can emote when it all goes wrong: "What am I doing holding this bloody limb, you ask, master, well, master, I just don't know master, it just happened master and there I was master all of a sudden holding this human's limb, master, it happened too fast for my poor circuits, master, to follow, master, master, master, master, master, master, master, MASTERMASTERMASTERMASTER I MUST KILL KILL KILL KILLKILLKILLKILLKILLKILLMASTERMASTERMASTERMASTER
posted by Kattullus at 3:02 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is going to be the best prom evar.
posted by jquinby at 3:12 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


it takes a purposeful thickheadedness to discount the relationship between the servility of traditional feminine roles and the servile nature of a robot

Odd, then, that it took them so long to make this woman-shaped robot. Or maybe they were just being purposefully thickheaded when they made Asimo?

As for "servility" being traditionally feminine: yes and no. I'd have thought that many people's model for a "robot servant" would be the traditionally male role of butler (not to mention such other traditionally male roles as batman, footman etc.). There have been plenty of fembots in the sci-fi tradition, but I can think of just as many masculine examples (such as Robbie-the-).

If the "servile robot must be woman" topos is as deeply ingrained as you claim, it's odd that so many sci-fi writers--and, up until now, actual robot builders--have fought against it. Who knew that space fiction and robo-nerddom were such a hard-core feminist enterprises?
posted by yoink at 3:13 PM on March 17, 2009


The robotic framework for the HRP-4C without the face and other coverings will go on sale for about 20 million yen (US$200,000) each, and its programming technology will be made public so other people can come up with fun moves for the robot, the scientists said.
Gee whiz! You'll actually open up your programming technology to me if I shell out $200,000 for your robot? That IP alone would be worth the price! I can see the API now:

WalkForward();
TurnLeft();
MakeStupidFace();

Yeah, I suppose this is interesting/novel from a spectator/enthusiast standpoint, to see advances in human-movement simulation. But from a consumer standpoint, the robot's capabilities seem pretty underwhelming for such a hefty price tag. I suppose I must not be the robot enthusiast they're targeting.
posted by Brak at 3:39 PM on March 17, 2009


yoink: I am not trying to describe a universal. I never said that every robot was a stereotyped female, I actually specifically alluded to other kinds of robots. I am saying that this way of depicting feminine robotness bugs me, and has a relationship to undesirable cultural traditions of what it means to be female.
posted by idiopath at 3:39 PM on March 17, 2009


Pastabagel: We had a previous discussion about human robots where I made that point, particularly about Japan's fascination with humanoid robots. In it PsychoKick made the case for them:

This is a common sentiment that does make an important point, but at the same time it's missing the entire point behind humanoid robotics. It's admittedly a kind of hairy subject that's difficult to present in a coherent manner, but I'll try to put it as clearly and simply as I can.

You have a multi-armed laundry robot, and a no-armed vacuum robot. They're the best at what they do, but any advancement in one robot's field has little to no direct bearing on the other due to the sheer differences between the two.

You have a 1:1 scale humanoid form robot. Despite its suboptimal form for any specific task, its means of locomotion and general-purpose nature means that it can be programmed to go and do anything a person can. This means that any advancement in humanoid-form vacuuming and humanoid-form laundry are both in some way applicable to the robot as long someone ports the code. More importantly, this enables cross-pollination from different development fields. As an added bonus much of our old knowledge of human body kinetics is also applicable.

posted by zabuni at 3:40 PM on March 17, 2009


I'd like to get up in her uncanny valley.

Wear three condoms or you'll catch the HRPes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:07 PM on March 17, 2009


Yeah, I was watching "How It's Made" the other day, and they had a scene of giant-arm-like robots grinding some metal parts down. I was perplexed for a moment - why make what look like very expensive robots do a menial task that can easily - and more cheaply - be done by a machine specially designed for the task?

In a moment of minor epiphany, I realized that the robots would eventually (if not already) be more cheap to make than the machines they replace. Make fewer kinds of robots to do more kinds of machine tasks. Also, if you change the specs on the items you are making, you don't have to re-tool or send the parts to another part of the facility. Just run a different software routine.

Now as far as making androids goes - or gynoids - well then, for the time being it's just the achievement of doing so...
posted by Xoebe at 4:07 PM on March 17, 2009


I am not trying to describe a universal. I never said that every robot was a stereotyped female, I actually specifically alluded to other kinds of robots. I am saying that this way of depicting feminine robotness bugs me, and has a relationship to undesirable cultural traditions of what it means to be female.

What you actually said was that robots would be "soldiers, manual laborers, or women." I see now that you simply assumed that the "soldier" and "manual laborer" robots would be "man-like."

I don't agree, however, that "domestic robots" codes immediately and overwhelmingly as "feminine" (again, we have a long tradition of male personal servants in Western culture--so the claim that domestic servitude is deeply encoded as a purely feminine role is simply wrong). Should the day come when these things are marketable I think that people will be far more likely to choose a vaguely masculine looking figure precisely to avoid the idea that the "real" reason they bought it was as a sexbot.

It is clearly sexism that has this robot instantly being pictured as taking to a catwalk while Asimo got to conduct symphonies and play football (IIRC). But I doubt the PR is in the hands of the boffins. For the boffins, the question of whether one can make a plausibly "feminine-proportioned" robot is a valid and useful one to pursue. That we can't look at a robot designed to look like a young woman without immediately thinking "sexbot" simply says something about us.
posted by yoink at 4:51 PM on March 17, 2009


I remember the day I woke up
posted by The Whelk at 5:33 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Once again, I was not talking about any universals, and as I already said I am not trying to pick on the engineers who made this particular robot. I am talking about a tendency, a trend, something I see here and there that tends disturb me. Particular examples that don't fit that pattern are just fine, but they don't have much to do with what I am saying. Is it out of place to talk about the way this robot is talked about, and the way they present it and have it move, in the context of the gender role they give it? For some reason you seem to find this objectionable.

They did not gender Asimo the way they gender this robot, they did not give it a beard, they did not have it gratuitously flex imitation biceps. It was essentially a neuter creation. I am interested in how they present this particular robot as female, because of what it tells us about the role of women in society. They did have this robot do gratuitous and stereotypical feminine things, and the outline of a female body shape, and that is all that makes this robot worth talking about, given that Asimo has already been made.

I did not assume that the soldier and manual labor robots would be man-like, when robots are depicted in popular culture as soldiers or laborers, they are, if depicted as having a gender, typically depicted as male. I did leave out butler-bots, but they reinforce the point I was trying to make. In making this point I am not criticizing robot makers, but the social forces that would dehumanize persons who take on these sorts of roles, such that we are most comfortable imagining an animated machine being one of them. Bridging a gap between the recognized-as-human and not-recognized-as-human from opposite directions, is one way to put it. Alternately there is the robot-boss, the depiction of corporate power personified by a machine, which is, of course, a whole other can of worms, and I don't think it makes the other kinds of robots less meaningful as cultural tropes.

When they make a "female" robot, that tilts her hips and looks coyly over her shoulder, and has the outlines of breasts, it is only natural to speculate about this in terms of its symbolic meaning as an intersection of technology and sexuality/gender.
posted by idiopath at 5:42 PM on March 17, 2009


I have a problem with no less than three (3) parties on account of this article: 1) Yuri Kageyama, Business Writer, 2) the robot-makers, and 3) the fashion industry representatives quoted. It is a fabulous trifecta of misogyny, made only more glorious because it is about ROBOTS. Who doesn't love robots!!

Ironic, since Yuri Kageyama is female.

Perhaps for some more perspective as to why these robots are designed the way they are, this article (by the same author) about a different feminine robot may be appropriate:

"'Robots that look human tend to be a big hit with young children and the elderly,' Hiroshi Kobayashi, Tokyo University of Science professor and Saya's developer, told The Associated Press Wednesday. 'Children even start crying when they are scolded.'"

My own opinion is that objectification of females is more accepted in Japan than in the U.S. or Western Europe, which, added to the fact that the engineers working on these projects are overwhelmingly male and the widespread acceptance of the "receptionist/nurse/caretaker" as female almost without exception in Japan, leads to the natural conclusion that these kinds of robots will be primarily female. Though I have no doubt male robots in similar roles will inevitably follow.
posted by armage at 6:11 PM on March 17, 2009


One of the technical achievements of this particular model was that they reduced the size and weight dramatically. It occurs to me that eventually some robots will be larger and stronger (and probably more expensive) while for other applications that may not be necessary and a smaller sized unit might be more appropriate.

And it won't surprise me much if the larger units are usually made to look like men while the smaller ones are usually made to look like women.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:06 PM on March 17, 2009


Why don't its hands work? If it's based on Asimo technology, that part just doesn't make sense to me. Asimo can hold things, give you the finger etc, and that IMO makes it look/act more natural. This thing looks like they stuck some rubber gloves on stumps.
posted by agress at 7:15 PM on March 17, 2009


This isn't the droid you're looking for.

"When can I get a job shooting them?"

Don't think of it as a job, the whole point is just to relax and enjoy yourself.

I've smashed several printers. I can't imagine the damage I'd do to an inanimate object that appeared to become angry at me or scolded my child.
Y'know, I do love technology. Got all sorts of gadgets. So I'm no luddite, but some places it's just out of place. I don't really use the mechanized checkout at the store (on the other hand I buy a lot of fresh groceries so no bar codes), I think the mechanized call answer stuff was a step in the wrong direction.
It just looks like they're trying to create a need here. I get broke, I need some help to the toilet, I prefer something with wheels and a stable platform that can support my weight or a big male nurse who can multi-task by maybe sneaking me in a beef sandwich or brownie a la mode or something. There's a lot more to comfort and caretaking than a rubber face.
And there are still people working in mines. I'd much rather have robots do that work than eliminate the nice 3 or 4 minutes of small talk and calm you can have with a human receptionist.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:12 PM on March 17, 2009


This must be one of Freya's earliest instars.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:43 PM on March 17, 2009


Someday, creepy womanbots will wipe your butt at the old folks home!

Robogender aside, I think I'd actually prefer to have my butt wiped by a robot than a human, when it comes down to it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:44 PM on March 17, 2009


It's not going to wipe your asshole, it's going to pick you up, pull your gown up, and hoist you high into the air so it can have a close look at your asshole and compare it to recorded pictures of your asshole while taking pictures and sniffing sniffs to add to the record. Then it will hold you over a bidet while it makes soothing noises. After a few seconds, it will hoist you back into the air so it can have another look at your asshole and compare it to recorded pictures of how your asshole should look when clean while taking more pictures and sniffing more sniffs. If you're clean and it doesn't see or smell (or taste?) anything out of the ordinary, it will carry you back to bed, prop you up, and move on to the next bed.

And for something that does that, I want it to look and talk like a sexy porn nurse, complete with soundtrack playing from a speaker in its torso.
posted by pracowity at 7:21 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


In other robot news: BigDog has been weaponized, with gigantic freaking bull horns.
posted by homunculus at 8:19 PM on March 19, 2009




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