Considering the Robot Romance

By JR Raphael
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

I’m thinking about trading in my girlfriend for a few really advanced robots.

Hang on a sec — I know it sounds bad. But hear me out.

Scientists are making leaps and bounds with these things right now. I mean, they’ve come up with artificial life that can conduct psychotherapy, perform exotic dances, and appear to have “high emotional capacity.” Hell, even I don’t have that.

So I guess the only thing to do is to hold a point-by-point match-up, robot versus relationship. This will be the battle that settles it all. Grab your gloves, fellow fight fans: We’re headed to the ring.

Round 1: An Emotional Connection

We all need someone who can respond to our emotions, right? Well, I may have found her. Er, it. Japanese researcher Hiroshi Ishiguro swears he’s found the secret to building a bot that can look and act just like a human. He made some headlines a couple years back by building a machine version of himself, complete with his mannerisms and movements. He even had it teach his classes a few times when he was too busy to make it in.

Of course, the Japanese man model isn’t quite my type when it comes to cuddling. But that’s where the Haptic Creature comes in. The just-released “strokable rabbit” boasts itself as being one of the first forms of artificial intelligence to respond to the human touch. It looks and feels just like a real warm-blooded creature. The Haptic detects how you touch it and responds accordingly by altering its breathing and body movements.

Okay, not bad. Now let’s find some empathy. MindMentor’s “robot psychologist” claims to possess the power to listen to your problems and help you work through them. Well, all it really does is sort of paraphrase what you say to keep you talking. But let’s be honest, that’s probably enough to meet my horribly stunted emotional capacity.

MindMentor, Robot Psychologist

Hmm. I think round one is a draw. Let’s move on.

Round 2: Sharing My Interests

A relationship is built upon shared interests, so can the robot stand up to the challenge? Well, let’s see. I play the drums. It’d be nice to have someone to accompany me. The girlfriend’s out on this one, but I think the robot may have the upper hand.

Toyota has been working on music-playing models for a few years now. They have horn, drum, and trumpet bots. And an MIT engineer is creating a robot that could help me practice and improve my form. HAGUS, as he calls it, actually uses a set of motors to guide a drummer’s hand and teach him new tricks.

Round two: Robots.

Round 3: Having Some Fun

You’ve gotta have a partner who knows how to have fun. Well, I love a good joke, but even more, I love it when someone else laughs at my jokes (and yes, I consider a booming belch to be a hilarious punchline — I don’t know why my girlfriend doesn’t).

Now enter the joke bot. University of Cincinnati researchers came up with the concept. They built in a database of words into the thing’s core and essentially taught it to recognize simple puns. They’re even working on customizing it to relate to different senses of humor, so there’s no doubt this metallic maniac would appreciate my antics.

So far, so good. But I need more than someone who can spot a good gag. I might want to boogie. Being that I am, of course, the envy of every dance floor, I need a companion who can keep up with my moves. Cue the dancing robot. These things, from the University of Tokyo, can capture the movements of any advanced dance and then replicate them. Being that “the robot” is, in fact, my signature move, I have a feeling this fella will fit right in.

Round three: Robots.

Round 4: Being Happy at Home

Going out is great, but a healthy relationship starts in the home. This could be the true test: Can a robot be a good roommate?

Well, first, let’s deal with the downsides. As much as I love strong women, I don’t want anyone who can kick my ass (sorry, American Gladiator Hellga). But a German Aerospace Agency has come up with the technology to build a “sensitive robot” that, evidently, “knows when it has punched you.” Okay, that’s cool. Good to know I won’t be in danger.

But what else could my new relationship replacements do? Well, we know they can do all sorts of housework. I sure won’t complain about that. Then there’s the hair transplant robot. Yup, I kid you not: The machine can shift your hair follicles around to make your locks look more lustrous than Sanjaya on salon day. I hope I won’t need that feature, but it can’t hurt to have it around just in case.

Then there’s the Road-Bot, which could go pick up my Chinese food when I don’t want to get dressed. The girlfriend won’t do that.

I hate to say it, but I think I’ve gotta call another round for the robots.

Round 5: Getting Physical

Okay, I couldn’t complete the fight without the final test. I’ve looked at a lot of robots today, and as excited as I am, I just don’t know that they have what it takes in this last department. Now, there is The Gripper, a relatively new bot that has a “tiny hand with the gentlest touch.” That might….no, nevermind. It’s just wrong.

You know, what I think I’ve realized through all this is that I may be the one lacking in these areas. I mean, let’s be honest here: I just spent an entire morning considering whether to replace my girlfriend with a series of robots. Could robots really replace love? Could a machine help you become a better person? What was I thinking? I’m the one with the emotional void. I need help.

I wonder if that robot psychologist has any openings.

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