Who is Nadine and Why is She so Creepy?

Nadine is dressed in all black with shoulder length, golden brown hair. She’s a receptionist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Like many in face to face industries, part of her job is to greet visitors, make eye contact, shake hands and recognise past guests. She also sparks up new chats based on previous ones. ‘Nadine has her own personality, moods and emotions. She can be happy or sad, depending on the topic.’ Says the Telegraph.

That’s a bit weird isn’t it? Why would someone say that Nadine has her own personality? In fact, why would the Telegraph be writing a piece about a university receptionist at all?

Well, Nadine is also the world’s most human-like robot.

She was ‘released’ on 29 December 2015 by the university. She took four years and brought together specialists from many different disciplines. Engineering, computer science, linguistics, psychology and robotics. This eclectic group worked together to ‘transform a virtual human, from within a computer, into a physical being that is able to observe and interact with other humans.’ Says Professor Thalmann, Director of the Institute for Media Innovation.

Concealed cameras connected to facial recognition software tell Nadine where to look. This is how she can make eye contact. These cameras feed the Artificial Intelligence (AI) your facial expressions. Things like the shape of your mouth and eyes, and your body language. This is then compared to the AI’s internal database. This is how Nadine registers and reflects your mood.

This AI works similar to Siri or Cortana. They all run on massive servers built to cope with huge amounts of information. These AIs also retain records of every conversation they’ve ever had. It cross references all of its previous interactions against what you’re saying to figure out what you want. That’s how it learns.

Hank Green, Entrepreneur and YouTube vlogger, says:

Nadine is the next generation of human-like robotics, and it’s an incredible scientific achievement, uniting sophisticated motors with rapid real time sensors and cutting edge artificial intelligence. And a lot of people think it’s super creepy.

In his video Hank Green explains the science behind Nadine’s soft skin. He also goes into the science behind why many find Nadine’s appearance…unsettling.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, also sees Nadine’s human-like appearance as creepy. He doesn’t see the point of the robotics industry working toward humanoid robotics assistants yet.

It’s one thing to be a program that responds to certain words or phrases. It’s another thing to pretend to be human. We’re not anywhere near not being able to tell if a robot is a machine or human. And if we’re not near that, then pretending to be human is bound to be confusing.’

Nadine Professor Thalmann

Nadine and Professor Thalmann

Source: The Telegraph

Professor Thalmann led the development of robots like Nadine. She says ‘Robotics technologies have advanced significantly over the past few decades and are already being used in manufacturing and logistics.’

This is somewhat like a real companion that is always with you and conscious of what is happening. So in future, these socially intelligent robots could be like C-3PO, the iconic golden droid from Star Wars, with knowledge of language and etiquette.

Except C-3PO and BB-8 are not creepy. They’re cute. And I think just about everyone prefers BB-8 anyway because it’s not built to mirror the human form. Personally, I would love a little BB-8 as a companion. I could even deal with a C-3PO. Not sure about Nadine though. Something about that skin…

Nadine isn’t commercially viable yet, but the university sees marketability in her. Professor Thalmann shares this optimism about the future for Nadine:

As countries worldwide face challenges of an aging population, social robots can be one solution to address the shrinking workforce, become personal companions for children and the elderly at home, and even serve as a platform for healthcare services in future.’

I’ll let the parents battle out whether we should allow Nadine to take care of our kids.

As for the elderly, our global ageing population should not be overlooked. And one of the most pressing social issue among the elderly is loneliness. Whether or not Nadine could replace human interaction remains to be seen. Until we get to the later models of the Bicentennial Man I don’t see robots solving the issue.

But we are well on our way.

Nadine’s software can also be made to appear on a screen as a social companion. Obviously this comes at significantly less cost than having a humanoid robot in person. Because of that — and the creepiness factor — this seems a lot closer. This could be the beginning of AI companionship for both children and the elderly.

In whichever form, AI is poised to become more visible in homes and offices in the future.

Sophie Hobbs,

Contributor, Money Morning

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