This creepy robot is powered by a neural network

This creepy robot is powered by a neural network

By BRIAN MASTROIANNI CBS NEWS August 2, 2016, 4:41 PM

The humanoid robot "Alter" is displayed at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo, Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. P PHOTO/KOJI SASAHARA

It has a mask-like, yet eerily expressive face and a body made up of gears and wires. This humanoid robot called "Alter" is powered entirely by a neural network that gives it the ability to move by itself.

Yes, it is as creepy -- and as fascinating -- as it sounds. The robot is on display to the public at Japan's National Science Museum, where it's unnerved visitors by moving its arms around, gesturing to the crowd jerkily, without any human operator or remote control directing its actions.

How does it work? The robot, designed by a team lead by Takashi Ikegami of the University of Tokyo and Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University, runs on a "central pattern generator" that has networks that act similarly to neural systems in the body, according to Engadget. These networks give the robot the ability to generate its own movement.

Of course, if you watch the video of Alter in action, it's clear that the robot doesn't come close to moving as fluidly as a human. That being said, its agency over making its own movements creates the powerful illusion that it is a living being.

To add to the creepy factor, Alter has some musical chops. The robot was also programmed to "sing" -- maybe it's more like a hum -- in deep, resonant notes. The robot's voice is tied to sine waves, or mathematical curves that represents clear, repetitive oscillations, which correspond to its finger movements.

But despite the neural networks that give it the illusion of life, this robot can't think on its own. Maybe that's next?

© 2016 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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