Erica is 23. She has a pretty yet neutral face and speaks with a refined voice, but she’s actually a robot. Because of her lifelike features, anybody who sees her would think that she is a real person.
A research team from Kyoto University, Osaka University, and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute (ATR) are trying to upgrade Erica even further by integrating “backchanneling” and “attentive listening” abilities into her so as to improve her interaction skills.
Who Erica is and How She Came to Be
Erica is a robot that resulted from the collaboration between Osaka and Kyoto universities. She was created by Hiroshi Ishiguro, who is the director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University, and was developed using the funds from one of Japan’s highest-funded science projects: the JST Erato.
Erica is purposely designed to be able to converse naturally with humans through the integration of human-like facial expressions and gestures. At present, she is still unable to move her arms. However, she can distinguish where a sound is coming from and can identify who is talking to her. Plus, she has one of the most advanced speech synthesis systems ever created and is equipped with 14 infrared sensors and face recognition technology. So, she can easily track people in a room.
What Makes Erica so Beautiful and Special
According to Ishiguro, who considers himself as Erica’s father, Erica is the most beautiful and intelligent robot in the world. He also described her as being so lifelike that she might have a “soul”.
“Generally, everything that is beautiful can actually be seen in the average face. So, I utilized photos of 30 attractive women and combined their features and used the average for each in order to design the nose, eyes, and so on,” Ishiguro says during an interview. “That means she should appeal to everyone.”
Physically, she looks just like a beautiful 23-year-old woman, but what sets her apart from other AI is her charisma. Erica is able to hold an effortless conversation with humans, which is the result of the integration of speech-generation algorithms, facial recognition technology, and infrared sensors that could let Erica track faces of people across a room.
Even though she still is unable to move her arms, Erica can display various facial expressions and can move her neck, shoulders, and waist by herself. This allows her to react to human speech with an uncanny autonomy.
What Erica is Capable Of
According to Tatsuya Kawahara, an expert in speech and audio processing, his conversations with Erica is never a simple back and forth progression of information.
Erica is able to actively listen during the conversation. She is also able to express agreement by nodding or saying “uh-huh” so as to keep the momentum of the conversation. This ability is called “backchanneling”.
Erica also has the ability of “attentive listening”, which allows her to ask elaborate questions, or sometimes to repeat the last word of the speaker’s sentence, which allows for a more engaging conversation.
Dr. Dylan Glas, Erica’s architect, says that she has learned jokes, “although they’re not exactly side-splitters,” he added. According to Dr. Glas, what their team really wanted is to have a robot that can think and act and do everything independently and autonomously. The team also wanted Erica to develop compassion.
According to Ishiguro, this robot can be warm and caring. He also says that Erica may soon exhibit proof of independent consciousness.
It is still too early to say if this artificial intelligence will be able to feel love as a human being, but who’s to say that it is otherwise impossible? Certainly not Ishiguro who says, “One day, humans and robots will be able to love each other.”