David Hanson is a part-time engineer, part-time artist and full-time lover of artificial intelligence. He, along with his robot reincarnation of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, made the rounds today at the APS March Meeting in Dallas.
Hanson said he chose to make an analogue of Dick because, in his writings, Dick portrayed robots that came to life and thought they were human.
Creating Phil's skin was a challenge for Hanson.
"We found that solid rubber material just didn't have the same physics as facial soft tissue because facial soft tissue is mostly liquid." Hanson explained that when you touch your face, the liquid molecules in your skin rearrange themselves to move out of the way. When you touch rubber, it simply compresses. To make the robot's skin more realistic, Hanson created a new fluid-filled porous material he calls "frubber." The material helps the robot's expressions to be more accurate and realistic.
Though at a glance the robot didn't appear to have very soft skin, in fact, Phil's skin was alarmingly realistic. Think of a slightly-moist angel food cake or a cross between a memory-foam bed and a sponge. Phil made an appearance in the press room in the afternoon. Several journalists took turns squeaking and shrieking after delicately touching Phil's surprisingly human-like facial skin.
Hanson hopes that by 2020, robots will be at the same intelligence level as humans, able to do the same daily tasks that we do like cracking jokes and paying bills. To help spur on progress and meet his goal, Hanson created the Apollo Mind Initiative to promote collaboration between robot makers.
If Hanson's dream comes true and robots are rivaling humans ten years from now, it's anyone's guess whether they remain peaceful co-inhabitants or whether they bring on the dreaded robot revolution. Which might it be? Perhaps Philip K. Dick can provide some insight...