“Domo Arigato, Mister Roboto.”
Recall the classic Styx song and ask yourself a simple question: how can you tell that the band members are pretending to be robots? It’s the stiff, jerky movements, right?
When we think of a gesture or a voice as “robotic,” we mean that it’s abrupt, rigid, emotionless. To be “robotic” is the opposite of “human.” Human and animal motion is fantastically complex and responsive to the environment, in a way that robots can’t yet replicate. What’s more, human motion is social: our faces and gestures respond to social cues, and we modulate our body language to deal with the presence of others. For example, we can negotiate a crowded hallway without colliding. We’re very good at moving and expressing ourselves physically in a social environment. Robots don’t have such subtle modulation, yet. But new research is helping them catch up.