Source: Hanson Robotics
Edited and Submitted by: S.K. Sloan
In an unparalleled technical collaboration, a team of artists, writers, engineers, literary scholars, and freethinkers are creating a lifelike, android portrait of one of America’s well-known science-fiction writers Philip K Dick. The robot will be featured at WIRED magazine’s NextFest, June 25-27, 2005.
The late Philip K. Dick created the fiction behind Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall. In addition, Dick wrote A Scanner Darkly, which will come out as a major feature film this fall. Hanson Robotics Inc (HRI), the FedEx Institute of Technology’s Institute for Intelligent Systems (IIS) and the Automation and Robotics Research Institute (ARRI) at UTA are working with Paul Williams, a close friend and former literary executor of Dick, to create a robotic portrait that will be a powerful memorial to the author.
Philip K Dick’s works addressed themes in which science, technology and robotics challenge and twist human identity. He would often portray robots that think they are human or mimic a given human identity. Celebrating and resurrecting Dick with such a robot reflects simultaneously upon the works of Dick and the advancement of robotic technology. This robot publicly represents a remarkable convergence of the world’s best expressive robot hardware, natural language AI and machine vision that will appear in a wide range of applications such as advertising, entertainment, and education.
The robot will portray Dick in both form and intellect through an artificial-intelligence-driven personality. The hardware will manipulate Hanson’s proprietary lifelike skin material to affect extremely realistic expressions with very low power. Cameras in the eyes will allow the robot to perceive people’s identity and behavior through advanced machine vision and biometric-identification software. The robot will track faces, perceive facial expressions, and recognize people from the crowd (family, friends, celebrities, etc).
The visual data will be fused with some of the best speech recognition software, advanced natural language processing, and speech synthesis in the world. All of this will run in sync with Hanson Robotics’ highly expressive robot face to emulate a full human-conversational system.
IIS will create the artificial intelligence personality of the robot by mathematically deriving it from Dick’s life and works in a manner very similar to that described by Dick himself in his book We Can Build You (published in 1964). ARRI will supply mechanical and manufacturability engineering support. Their eloquent CAD models will provide a solid foundation.
Hanson Robotics is rendering the mechanical and animation systems of the Dick robot. Hanson’s distinguished humanlike face technology has been featured in Science, WIRED, the NY Times, CNN, and other prominent venues as Human Robot and NASA Biomimetic. IIS brings its renowned expertise for AI and natural language systems as featured in WIRED, AI Magazine, as well as other well-known periodicals including The University of Memphis Institute of Technology and The University of Memphis Institute of Intelligent Systems. ARRI‘s premier mechanical engineering expertise ensures the project encompasses cutting edge robotics.
NextFest Booth: Interaction Design
The robot sits in a room within a room, together composing a 1970’s apartment environment, comfortable and inviting. The soundproofed inner chamber islolates outside noise and completes the illusion; there, Philip K Dick sits on a sofa, hosting conversations with visitors who enter. The conversations are easily viewed through sliding glass doors and windows (thus onlookers will have the feeling of “spying” on the PKD robot conversation). The conversations are also telecast to a plasma screen display outside the booth, so that the conversations can be viewed from far away. The outer room will be like a casual hangout space, with a bar and bar- stools and chairs. On the walls outside the booth, a number of old televisions present grainy footage of old PKD interviews, modern perspectives on his life, works, and philosophy, robotics progress of late (segments on singularity::VALIS), and about the PKD android project and its creative team.
The conversational dialogue of the robot will be similar to the synthetic post-mortem interview with PKD written by Erik Davis.
However, our PKD robot will use advanced techniques in natural language processing and AI to automatically generate dialogue that is specifically tailored to the current conversation.
The installation includes interactive exhibits that are both hip and educational. The crowd is able to manipulate the expressions of Eva, the PKD robot’s precursor, with slider controls and a matching explanation of the mechanism that create facial expression. Another cast of the PKD skin that people can touch is on display so that they can feel its lifelike texture and stretchiness. Another exhibit, a camera system with the face tracking software, shows passersby what the world looks like through the eyes of the robot — they see their faces being tracked and markers automatically drawn over their face images to track facial features. Yet another exhibit features a TTS enhanced chatterbot, which holds a disembodied conversation similar to the PKD robot. Our hope is to both wonder and educate, allowing interest in the PKDbot to spill over into these exhibits that demonstrate the science behind the art.
The story of the PKD robot’s creation is also prominently displayed in the installation. Through images, text, and video, visitors follow how the face of PKD was sculpted by hand and laser scanned, and how digital models of the robot’s mechanical systems are executed in CAD and rapid prototyped. They see how tooling was made to cast the skin and skull, and how the skin is cast from F’rubber, Hanson Robotics’ proprietary polymer. The robot’s eyes get handmade and fitted with USB cameras. The mechanical systems and head are assembled and fitted with actuators and electronics. Finally, visitors will come to the process of creating the intelligence of the PKDbot. They will see snapshots and footage of the mental and physical activities at the Fedex Institute of Technology surrounding the collection of knowledge sources and the building of a conversational intelligence.