She’s a star!

In a similar vein to the last post, as well as humanoid robots, computer generated people are also HUGE in Japan!

Megpoid

The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week that ‘pop stars’ Megpoid and Akikoroid has made the top ten charts in Japan. But unlike the average pop star, nothing about this duo is real.

The duo is completely computer generated, including their high-pitched voices which are made on Yamaha’s Vocaloid program. But despite the fact that these popstars have been materialised out of thin air by some clever programmers, their cuteness and novelty factor has made them a world-wide sensation to techno geeks as well as Jpop lovers.

These are not the first characters to gain fame from the Vocaloid program. In fact there is a whole family of CG characters. Here are some in concert cheered on by what sounds like a stadium of fanboys;

This again demonstrates the prevalence of technology in everyday life in Japan.

There is a robotic pop star as well. The HRP-4C developed by Japan’s Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology last year was very popular in the geek-tech communities and also uses the Vocaloid program. However her stiff dance moves and awkward facial expressions do not measure up to the more fluid CG characters.

Uncanny Valley

Uncanny Vally, the pseudo-scientific hypothesis in robotics that as robots become more human-like but not entirely human, it will cause revulsion in its human observers.

The 'valley' on the graph indicates the level of likeness which will cause revulsion

So why is it that the Japanese are racing headlong into the development of artificial intelligence, especially those which bear a creepy resemblance to humans? Meet Actroid-f, made by the Japanese company Kokoro, which can mimic the facial expressions of its operator.

“Cameras and face-tracking software follow a remote operator so facial expressions and head movements are reproduced in the robot in a master-slave relationship via Internet link. ” Reports CNet

In this video, Actroid-f is dressed as a nurse to fill her intended purpose of an observer nurse in Japanese hospitals. I am not sure how the presence of these humanoid robots will function to reassure their future patients.

Not only has Japan reserved a niche for robots in their future work force, robots has always had a strong presence in popular culture which is not surprising given Japan’s obsession with technology. Anime and Manga characters such as Astroboy, Arale and the cyborgs of Ghost in the Shell are hugely popular.

Astro Boy - The original AI

But when you look at the underlying themes of these stories, things get a bit more complicated. The ‘ghost’ inside the shell is the whisper of the consciousness of the artificial intelligence, and Astroboy and Arale are treated like real children, albeit with super powers and perhaps this established presence of robots in pop culture explains the acceptance in Japan for the uncannily life-like robots.