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Lifelike robots ‘unlikely’ in British homes soon, expert says

Ben Russell, curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum in London, said ‘people would recoil and actively try and escape’ from any robot.

It is unlikely that lifelike robots, such as those from the hit TV show Humans, will inhabit our homes anytime soon.

Ben Russell, curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum in London, said he did not think the British public was ready to accept androids sharing their homes.

In the Channel 4 show Humans, anthropomorphic robots called Synths are the must-have gadgets for any household.

In Japan Robina, which can provide medical or nursing care or carry out household chores, has been developed by car giant Toyota, while android Kodomoroid can read the news and Pepper can respond to emotions.

“I’m sure if you took a robot like Robina and put it in a hospital in the UK, people would recoil and actively try and escape from the thing,” Mr Russell said.

“What is considered appropriate in different places varies an awful lot.

“We are quite happy with things when they look a bit human-like but as soon as they get too human-like, our happiness with it plunges through the floor.

“I think Kodomoroid is an explanation of that – it is too lifelike. It has human hair and eyebrows, which in Japan is considered to be a good thing but in Britain I think you would get a much different response.”

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Kodomoroid, a Japanese android that reads robot-related news bulletins (Board of Trustees of the Science Museum/PA)

Mr Russell, who was speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, said most robots were used for the “four D” jobs – dull, dumb, dirty or dangerous.

“The classic example is car assembly lines where most of your car will be put together by robots,” he said.

“Many of us are using robots without even thinking about it. Every time you use of these machines in the supermarket, you are interacting with a robot.

“One of the definitions of a robot is that it puts people out of a job.”

Mr Russell said robots were very good at specific jobs like mowing the lawn, hoovering or picking up and placing things in boxes.

“Getting a robot that can deal with a much more unpredictable human environment, I think is the massive thing everyone is struggling with at the moment,” he said.

Why do we keep building the robots that look like humans? We are obsessed with it Ben Russell

“And if we are honest they have been struggling with it for a very long time. I don’t know how things are going to go and I’m actually quite sceptical about whether it is a thing we should be doing.

“Why do we keep building the robots that look like humans? We are obsessed with it. I’ve had this argument with people working in the industry, in robot labs.

“They would say that the anthropomorphic tendency to build robots like us is complete nonsense but I would say, fine but you’re building a functional robot you’ve just put socks and shoes on it and calling it Nigel.

“What happens with robots next? They are starting to be out there when you see what’s happened with Pepper as some of those robots that are designed as human companion and it is really quite remarkable in terms of the interaction, gestures and how it picks up on human conversation.

“Whether that becomes something that is more mainstream, I have no idea. I am a little bit sceptical.”

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