Meet Kodomoroid, Otonaroid: World's first android newscasters

Japanese scientists on unveiled what they said was the world’s first news-reading android, eerily lifelike and possessing a sense of humour to match her perfect language skills.

The adolescent-looking Kodomoroid — a portmanteau of the Japanese word kodomo (child) and 'android' — delivered news of an earthquake and an FBI raid to amazed reporters in Tokyo on June 24. She even poked fun at her creator, telling leading robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro: "You’re starting to look like a robot!"

The pitch-perfect Kodomoroid was flanked by a fellow robot, Otonaroid — whose name comes from otona (adult). Unlike the more confident Kodomoroid, Otonaroid caught stage fright and fluffed her lines when asked to introduce herself, excusing herself after a quick reboot: "I’m a little bit nervous."

Who's the android and who's the human? From left: Kodomoroid, Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, National Museum of Emerging Science and Technology director and former astronaut Mamoru Mori, and Otonaroid, pose for a 'family photo' at a press conference introducing the two android newscasters in Tokyo. — AFP

Both androids will work at Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, interacting with visitors to collect data for Ishiguro’s studies into human reactions to the machines. "We will have more and more robots in our lives in the future," Ishiguro said. "You can take my androids on planes — the torso in the suitcase and the head in carry-on."

Ishiguro has a humanoid version of himself that he sends overseas to give lectures. "It cuts down on my business trips," he said. "Technical advances mean robots look and act more human, and that makes us think about our worth."

Otonaroid looked as if she could need rewiring before beginning her new role as the museum’s science communicator, her lips out of sync and her neck movements symptomatic of a bad night’s sleep.

But Ishiguro insisted both would prove invaluable to his continued research as museum visitors get to have conversations with the droids and operate them as extensions of their own body. "This will give us important feedback as we explore the question of what is human," said the 50-year-old. "We want robots to become increasingly clever."

As the line between humans and machines continued to blur, Ishiguro’s mechanical newscaster performed tongue-twisters, to the amazement of their human counterparts. "My dream is to have my own TV show in the future," Kodomoroid said.

A chatty humanoid called Pepper designed by SoftBank as a household companion is set to go on sale for around US$2,000 (RM6,421) in Japan next year after a successful debut earlier this month. "That’s the same price as a laptop computer," said Ishiguro. "It’s incredible." — AFP/RelaxNews

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