One of the biggest problems roboticists face in their quest to create life-like robots we won’t run screaming from in horror is the “uncanny valley.” Essentially, as a simulation gets closer to a human being, our brains more easily spot the flaws and start screaming that we should kill it with fire. This is why even “realistic” video games have slightly cartoony or exaggerated character designs, and why The Polar Express is really a horror movie. It’s also why the poor guys at Hanson Robotics are probably back to the drawing board after the debut of Sophia, because watch the video above and try not to think, “Where did I put that torch?”
Hanson is probably best known for the Phillip K. Dick robot they built to promote A Scanner Darkly. Their mission is to engineer robots with realistic facial expressions and to develop better relations between humans and robots, and, on an objective level, the company has done some amazing work. Recreating a facial expression is a difficult thing to do for a robot. It requires not just multiple points of articulation, but also for humans to understand the expression and for the robot to grasp the social context. You don’t want it to look disgusted when you show it a photo of a baby, or smile at your broken arm. So Sophia’s ability to grin, frown, and be horrified is an achievement. On the other hand:
So, yes, congratulations to the Hanson team for their best work yet. But your job isn’t done yet, guys.