This robot secretary is mind-blowingly lifelike

Most of us at some point or another are urged — usually by a well-meaning elementary school teacher — to draw a self-portrait, to make an image in our likeness. As we continue our education, we might paint a self-portrait in an art class. Sometimes we go on to have children with a similar goal in mind.

Others create robots.

Just in time for the New Year, scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore unveiled this past Tuesday “Nadine,” a socially intelligent, human-looking robot complete with “her own personality, mood and emotions,” according to the university’s press release.

The humanoid “receptionist” was presented at a new media showcase at NTU, where her human creator Nadia Thalmann, director of the Institute for Media Innovation at NTU, predicted that “physical social robots such as Nadine are poised to become more visible in offices and homes in future.”

Nadine, who Thalmann describes as a “humanoid,” was created to be Thalmann’s doppelganger. According to Thalmann, Nadine has a “soft skin and flowing brunette hair. She smiles when greeting you, looks at you in the eye when talking, and can also shake hands with you.” She sounds like an average (albeit polite) lady. She just also happens to be mechanical.

In one video, Professor Thalmann is seen interacting with Nadine. “You are a beautiful and attractive social robot,” Professor Thalmann compliments Nadine. Nadine replies, “Thank you. You look attractive too.” This is not what the Terminator franchise predicted– or is it?

The humanoid can also react appropriately to negative thoughts. When Professor Thalmann said, “I hate you,” Nadine replied with a chipper, “Tell me more about that.” I guess she’ll save her human counterparts money on therapy!

According to the team at NTU, Nadine “can be happy or sad, depending on the conversation” and she “also has a good memory” with the ability to recognize people she has met before and even remember what those people have said in prior conversations. Nadine is powered by intelligent software similar to Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana.

According to Thalmann, there are many benefits to creating humanoids, or “social robots,” such as Nadine. “As countries worldwide face challenges of an aging population, social robots can be one solution to address the shrinking workforce, become personal companions for children and the elderly at home, and even serve as a platform for healthcare services in future,” Thalmann said.

The technology could also be rolled out at much lower cost, by appearing on a monitor rather than in a lifelike, and to many creepy, form.

Nonetheless, though many of social media users have claimed social robots such as Nadine are “creepy,” “scary,” and even “dangerous,” experts suggest these fears will go away over time as the technology becomes more popularly used.

“A few years ago, people’s biggest worry about technology was privacy, now it’s robots taking over the world,” Carlos Guestrin, a professor of machine learning at the Computer Science & Engineering Department of the University of Washington, told ABC News. He believes “we’re far from developing human-like technology that could have a negative impact,” with advances in Alternate Intelligence in the near future likely possessing “a more positive impact.”

“Self-driving vehicles are making vehicles safer, automation and smarter devices are making homes safer,” Guestrin concluded. “I think AI, especially those that can see and understand emotions, will be helping us with a wide range of tasks and making a lot of lives better.”

Until then, I think I’ll stick to asking my friends for coffee and getting advice face to human face!

[Image via Twitter]