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The Man Who Made a Copy of Himself

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Hiroshi Ishiguro and lookalike robot

Hiroshi Ishiguro's robot clone of himself mimics his speech and actions.

Credit: Product Review News

Hiroshi Ishiguro, a roboticist at Japan's Osaka University, has, as you might suspect, built many robots. But his latest aren't run-of-the-mill automatons. Ishiguro's recent creations look like normal people. One is an android version of a middle-aged family man—himself.

Ishiguro controls his mechanical doppelganger remotely, through his computer, using a microphone to capture his voice and a camera to track his face and head movements. When Ishiguro speaks, the android reproduces his intonations; when Ishiguro tilts his head, the android follows suit.

In "The Man Who Made a Copy of Himself," IEEE Spectrum profiles one of the world's most brilliant—and controversial—android makers. Ishiguro has built android copies of a child, a woman, and now, himself. He's using them to explore some of the most pressing questions in human-robot interaction. What do people expect from robots? What social behaviors should they exhibit? And how do we get their look right?

Many people find humanlike androids creepy, and some roboticists even question whether they are necessary. But Ishiguro is unfazed. He is convinced that human-looking robots are a natural interface for humans to interact with—and also the perfect tool for helping him answer his ultimate research question: What makes us human?

"The Man Who Made a Copy of Himself," by Erico Guizzo, appears in the April 2010 issue of IEEE Spectrum.


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