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We’ve known for a while that Japan is busy at work creating life-like human robots that will one day take over the world. But for the most part they’ve seemed pretty silly, like malfunctioning children that don’t quite know what they’re doing.

However the most recent Japanese android creation, Erica, might put a stop to that. She was created specifically with the goal of imitating human speech and body language patterns, in order to have “completely natural” conversations.

Will she be able to trick her inevitable suitors into thinking she’s real? Read on to find out!

Erica is a project being worked on by engineers from the Japan Science and Technology Agency, Osaka University, the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, and Kyoto University. She was created with the goal of being able to have “a completely natural conversation” with a regular human being “with nothing feeling out-of-place”.

Of course being able to speak a human language perfectly is only one part of having a “natural conversation.” There are several other factors at play, such as (perhaps most importantly) looking like a human, and also acting like a human, too, with all the subtle body language we knowingly or subconsciously insert into every conversation we have.

Just taking a look at Erica so far, we can see that the team is getting pretty close on the first part. Erica stands 166cm (5ft 5in) tall and was made to look like a Japanese-European ‘haafu‘. Here are some pictures of Erica in her current state:

▼ Erica, relax. You’re looking a little stiff.

zu1Japan Science and Technology Agency

▼ “Ah, much better. Shall I get you some hot tea?”
“Oil would be fine, thanks.”

But what about the second part, the speaking and the body language? Erica is programmed to understand and respond to spoken Japanese, not just with audio, but with movements as well. All the little things that we take for granted that make conversation flow naturally – blinking, moving your head, raising your eyebrows – she can do pretty well too.

Does this make her nearly human or just a wobbling audio player? You can watch a video of Erica below and decide for yourself:

▼ “Hi everyone! My name is Erica and I’m 23 years old.”

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▼ “I’m good at smiling, talking to people, and doing my best not to scare the crap out of humans I meet.”

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▼ The way her head turns slightly to the speaker is pretty neat, just like a real person would.

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▼ A reporter asks her a question: “What are your hobbies?”

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▼ “I like watching movies, sports, and anime. Do you share any of my hobbies?
“I like watching sports.”
“Oh but you’re so busy with your work, you must not have much free time to do it.”
(Cue impressed noises from the audience.)

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While certainly not perfect, Erica is certainly the closest we’ve seen to a robot impersonating a human. While some are already claiming that androids will be used to impersonate people without their permission (and potentially fulfill awkward fantasies), others say that the technology is still nowhere near that point. I think that Erica shows us while we eventually might have to tackle that problem, we’re still not quite there yet.

So what do you think? Would you like to have a chat with Erica? Or have you already fallen so deep into the uncanny valley that you can’t get out? Let us know in the comments section!

Source: Japan Science and Technology Agency via NetLab,
Images: YouTube (KYODO NEWS)

119Now watch: Meet Asuna, the hyperreal android that will leave your jaw hanging 【Video】