Science Channel - InSCIder

24 Aug

Wireless Robotic Kissing - With Video!

Robot Love - iStockphoto/ThinkstockYou may have been too busy playing Shoot the Zombirds on your iPhone to notice. But there's a big debate currently among social scientists about whether our increasing reliance upon — and immersion in — the Internet, video gaming and handheld electronic devices is turning us into a society of alienated, lonely misanthropes.

Some worry that our increasing fixation upon the virtual is causing us to lose the desire, or even the ability, to have face-to-face interaction with fellow humans. One ominous sign: A recent study found that texting has overtaken spoken conversation as the most frequent form of communication among British adults. And while social networking and online dating sites are popular among zeitgeisty Gen-Yers,some warn that people actually are using them as buffers to create the illusion of actual intimacy — which feels more comfortable to smartphone-obsessed introverts than the real thing. As Canadian social worker Cliff Nzombato lamented on the TED website:

"We seem to like, and actually fall in love with the medium more than we do of each other...what I see and hear as I travel around the world, an increase of fear to connect on a so call street level. People have become afraid of other people."

Nzombato worries that the lack of what he calls a "physical social network" is going to lead only to more alienation and depression.

But don't worry. Japanese and Singaporean researchers in the trailblazing field of lovotics have an answer. Lovotics, by the way, is not the study of Demi Lovato as noobs might initially suspect. Rather, it is the field of intimate interaction between humans and robotic devices. Kissinger is a new lovotics technology that allows two people to virtually smooch over a wireless connection, with the help of robotic intermediaries equipped with digitally-enabled lips. Perfect for those who crave a romantic connection but who are grossed out by actually touching another body.

As New Scientist explains:

The lips contain pressure sensors and actuators. When you kiss them, the shape changes you create are transmitted in real time over the net to a receiving Kissenger. There, the actuators reproduce the mirror image of the pressure patterns you created — magically transmitting your smacker to your partner.

Granted, this technological breakthrough is in its early stages, and has a few shortcomings. The most obvious problem is that a Kissinger user has to lock lips with an egg-shaped device that resembles, well, Mr. Potato Head. On the other hand, if your idea of a hottie is the bald guy in Resident Evil 4, it might just do the trick.

The other somewhat disturbing thing about the video demonstration is that two people sucking face are actually in the same laboratory, a few feet away. Wouldn't it be easier to just walk over to each other and utilize the traditional analog method?

Kissing via machine, moreover, soon leads to other things. And by that, I mean other gadgets, such as Mini-Surrogate, a doll-sized robot designed to resemble an actual person and act as a stand-in for him or her.

Once we get accustomed to simulating F2F contact via robots, however, I'm wondering how long it will be before we simply forget about having a human on the other end, and just turn to machines with artificial intelligence for companionship. In fact, as we reach and progress beyond the so-called singularity, in which AI may well eclipse the human mind, it might be a good way to ensure stimulating dinner conversation. And presuming that technologists equip androids with human-like emotions, you may not even be able to tell the difference between a robotic date and a bone-bag one. (If that worries you, my suggestion is to consult this handy guide: Six signs you might be dating a robot.

So what do you think? Express your opinion below.

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