Why the internet is panicking over a robot’s facial expressions

Another realistic robot strikes horror in the hearts of humans.

Appointed Ameca, the android can transmit an impressive array of facial gestures – and people are panicking.

These are predictable reactions. Whenever a machine shows another human ability, dancing to speak, it makes fear of uprisings of robots.

These anxieties are somewhat misplaced. Why are people more bothered by flashing robots than by combat drones and AI machine guns? It’s not the most rational priority, but there are a few good reasons for the fervor.

1. Hollywood brainwashing

Do you remember a movie about a killer humanoid? Of course there are hundreds of them.

A number of these fictitious machines have been compared to Ameca.

Sci-fi robots often wear human forms, but don’t always have the best interests of their ancestors at heart.

These representations shape our imaginations, but they are not necessarily realistic. If Hollywood wanted to prepare us for real threats, we would see more robot and combat drone swarms. Still, these don’t make characters as memorable as Terminators and Robocops.

2. The strange valley

In 1970, Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori hypothesized that people find anthropomorphic agents attractive, but only up to a point. When they become almost, but not quite human, our response turns to revulsion. This hollow is known as the Strange Valley.

The hypothesis is still debated, but the effect has been observed in real world robot studies. Although the cause remains uncertain, scientists have identified a link between the strange valley and specific parts of the brain.

This neurological response could explain the frightening reactions to Ameca. However, we can’t always be afraid of humanoids. Mori believes that when robots become truly human, our acceptance of them will increase.

3. Humanoids improve

Studies show that we are more likely to accept anthropomorphic robots that can convey emotional expressions.

This momentum and the rapid speed of technological advancements are making androids more and more human. When images of these machines circulate online, stunned reactions are inevitable.

However, robots with facial expressions are not my most pressing concern. While realistic gestures are useful for social bots, they’re not a key part of killing machines.

Ameca, for example, might have a decent smile, but that won’t kill a squad of soldiers – unlike, say, an autonomous tank.

About Wendy Hall

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