Erica the android can have 'natural' conversations

By Scott Wilson, RocketNews24

We’ve known for a while that Japan is busy at work creating life-like human robots that will one day take over the world. But for the most part they’ve seemed pretty silly, like malfunctioning children that don’t quite know what they’re doing.

However the most recent Japanese android creation, Erica, might put a stop to that. She was created specifically with the goal of imitating human speech and body language patterns, in order to have “completely natural” conversations.

Will she be able to trick her inevitable suitors into thinking she’s real?

Erica is a project being worked on by engineers from the Japan Science and Technology Agency, Osaka University, the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, and Kyoto University. She was created with the goal of being able to have “a completely natural conversation” with a regular human being “with nothing feeling out-of-place”.

Of course being able to speak a human language perfectly is only one part of having a “natural conversation.” There are several other factors at play, such as (perhaps most importantly) looking like a human, and also acting like a human, too, with all the subtle body language we knowingly or subconsciously insert into every conversation we have.

Just taking a look at Erica so far, we can see that the team is getting pretty close on the first part. Erica stands 166 cm tall and was made to look like a Japanese-European.

But what about the second part, the speaking and the body language? Erica is programmed to understand and respond to spoken Japanese, not just with audio, but with movements as well. All the little things that we take for granted that make conversation flow naturally – blinking, moving your head, raising your eyebrows – she can do pretty well too.

Does this make her nearly human or just a wobbling audio player? You can watch a video of Erica below and decide for yourself.

While certainly not perfect, Erica is certainly the closest we’ve seen to a robot impersonating a human. While some are already claiming that androids will be used to impersonate people without their permission (and potentially fulfill awkward fantasies), others say that the technology is still nowhere near that point. I think that Erica shows us while we eventually might have to tackle that problem, we’re still not quite there yet.

Source: Japan Science and Technology Agency

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I would have liked to hear Erica actually talking, instead of just a voiceover. We got no idea at all of how 'she' responded to questions, or even what her actual voice sounded like. However, that the voiceover was the usual childlike squeak which Japanese men seem to find attractive tells us everything about the ultimate aim of the project: to create a sex doll for a lot of geeky Japanese men who have no idea how to talk to a real woman.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

While we might view Erica as impersonating a human, this function will quickly pass as computers become more powerful. Rather than being an outlet for a sexual fantasy, androids will be able to do more and accomplish more than humans. With a near infinite possibility to learn and exist indefinitely machines will have the capacity to shape this reality much more than we can....,

4 ( +4 / -0 )

(and potentially fulfill awkward fantasies)

hackney's right, we all know where this is headed, Just have to add a sensor so you can use your Suica card to get some robot lovin'

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Will she be able to trick her inevitable suitors into thinking she’s real?

Nope. The Loebner prize has been trying to get computers (text responses to text questions) to "trick" humans into thinking they are natural, and not humans, for years.

This cutesy Japanese robot is just a gimmick by comparison.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Really? Just really? Is there not for once, where we know "Japanese men" aren't stereotyped in this way?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Erica stands 166 cm tall and was made to look like a Japanese-European.

More like Japanese-Caucasian.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@hackney Um, isn't Erica talking and responding to questions in the video?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Now if she could not respond to the question because she was so wrapped up in what she was seeing on her cell phone, and could do the slack-jawed look while walking, that would be convincing.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

I'd love to have Erica pick me up and drop me home after a night at the local drinker.

"Just park the car darling then park yerself in the shed and dont forget to wake me with a cuppa in the morning and stop nagging me about smoking "

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Do these robots really have to look like real human beings? because we all know that they are not? right?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

This is terrible news for homely and uninteresting single Japanese women. The men they would normally end up with will be rushing for their own Erica.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Maybe this team can help me and my wife to have 'completely natural' conversations.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I wonder who chose her clothes and dressed her? Must be no shortage of applicatants for that work!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Stacy Ann

You're right, she does for a brief segment.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

At the beginning when they were standing up and sitting down and bowing and waving their hands around, she alone sat unnaturally still.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

She is more animated than a lot of people on the subway.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I hope she has a realistic sexy part so all us ひきこもり have something to look forward to. But serious, she does look kind of cool...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

"natural conversation"... All it has to do is say inane stuff like "Atsui desune" and then just sit there nodding and saying "un, unn, soudesune", and it would surpass most of the women in my office in conversation skills!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Just change the name of this site to RocketNews24 already.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I never understood why companies that both stand to gain don't work together. Moreover, this isn't like an arms race...there's not much need to keep re-inventing the wheel here.

Disney and/or many Hollywood effects shops have already near-perfected robotics mechanically. (see current-gen or renovated animatronics) Technical effects are big money, much more than any college funded research group will get.

Apple has a pretty impressive voice-recognition setup in Siri with tons of data / refinement from users.

Similarly, Google has a very impressive AI with additional recognition software and of course search functions. See the Deep Dream project.

Many Gaming and/or Computer Animation companies have a ton of data regarding body language for use in their movies/games. Between Pixar and Square Enix I'd say more than any small research team could ever amass.

What they all lack, and what Japan has been doing well and should continue to work out is how to make their androids look more lifelike/natural. Things like the skin material or eyes still have a long way to go and, as far as I can tell on the video/quick net search, that was a key feature of this Erica.

Moreover, why are all the androids women? I mean, no harm no foul, but seems like building a man would be easier. As I remember designers/users are much more critical of a female androids looks/make up/ fashion (See Sanrio's android).

A male could just wear a business suit and call it a day. Doesn't even need fancy hair.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Ex Machina, man. Ex Machina.

Don't trust Erica.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Is she 36.6 degrees to the touch? What sexuality have they built into her. Does she follow the human monthly cycle? I want to see her point at her nose and watakushi.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Wrong, just wrong.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

there i one employee in my company, who is going to feel very threatened by her, she is brighter, more intelligent, probably does not fell asleep whilst at work, unlike my employee! hahaha!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I'm not really convinced that I would ever be able to speak to an "android" let alone any other electronic device which recognizes speech - and not feel like a complete fool. Because I really find the idea weird and unnecessary.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why all the negative comments? I think she's amazing. We SF fans have watched and read about synthetic humans/androids for decades, and I'm looking forward to the day when one can operate on it's own without cables and able to stand and walk.

As for the sexual comments about her... very immature.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

As long as she doesn't beg to practice eikaiwa with me.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm not really convinced that I would ever be able to speak to an "android" let alone any other electronic device which recognizes speech - and not feel like a complete fool. Because I really find the idea weird and unnecessary.

I do it everyday with my Apple Watch. It simplifies things so much being able to use voice instead of a keyboard.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

JapanGal... thanks for proving my point ;)

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Still looks kind of creepy to me. Skin color is too pale like corpse or someone with serious malnutrition. I would probably goes into my reflex and throw out a punch if something like that pops up in front of me in the middle of the night when I am half asleep.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Or at least what passes for "natural" conversation for some robot loving geek.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

She reminds me of a girl that I used to know... I think she was a robot to! She never fully grasped human conversation skills...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Great!-No salary, No overhead at all !Big buisness will be in their own heaven!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

No she can't have a natural conversation. She 's programmed to have a conversation. Once you're programmed to talk, it stops being natural.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I just wonder whether Erica has all the microprocessors, circuitry, voice-pickup sensors, batteries etc inside here bodies. or maybe there is a wire and communications link into a remote server with powerful CPU (more powerful than Octacore CPU) that processes all the information. If all the circuitry and CPU (including information processing) are inside its body, then we are close to Android revolution era.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Rofl @ these comments. My fav post by

nandakandamandaAUG. 07, 2015 - 09:58AM JST Maybe this team can help me and my wife to have 'completely natural' conversations.

Saw the vid, creepy. As creepy as the Japanese gal (artificial intelligence- Kyoko) featured on that movie, Ex Machina.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

British Scientists have made a UK version of Erica, they say the robot is or might be sponsored by Mc Donalds, the robot will weigh in at around 450Kg, be covered in horrible tattoos. ware tracksuit bottoms and a scruffy T shirt, the dentist is working on some decaying teeth to give it an "human qualities" the scientists have not quite got the speech pattern right yet, but on the other hand they say since its based on a Chav the speech is about right, on its first trial the robot was asked basic questions, the robot replied with a grunt and told the man to F,,,,,,,,, shortly afterwards the robot asked for a can of strong larger and a cigarette. A large car manufacturing company has expressed there interest in the robot, the spokes man said it would be ideal for those mundane tasks that no one wants to do, but after seeing the robot in action they chief executive has had now second thought, this was based on the chav robot didn't want to work, and started and stopped working at random times. The spokes man for the car company also reported that the Chav robot must have some mechanical problem (as it was a proto type) that it sounded like it was belching and emitted a funny smell from the electric motors. work will carry on with the MK 11 Chav robot next year.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

it is nice and beneficial to have wonderful machines, but if you want a machine like human, why don't you spend this money on the people already exist, millions of human beings looking for capacity building/education and training, trust me invest in them you will have a bright future

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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