I was directed to this website for Hanson Robotics, who claim to be in the business of humanizing robots.
The videos are shocking, not just for their creepy lifelike robot heads, but for the odd and unexplored choices of the characters that they made for their prototypes.
Why Einstein? Is it because he is the rhetorical figure of the genius? Or is it because he unleashed dangerous power to us? Or is it because of his contradictory nature - the ultimate physicist and the ultimate human - physics as the perfection of the sciences and human as the weak, questioning and uncertain fragility he demonstrated in his non-scientific writings.
The other characters are stock and stereotype - which makes me think about the major problem in robotics - the uncanny valley.
This theory postulates that the more human and realistic the robot, the more people will not want to be around the robot. They see non-human robots as quirky or cute and acceptable. But once the robot begins to take on incredibly real human features - skin, eyes expressions and the like - the humans reject the robot as "uncanny." They stop laughing and smiling. The robot is no longer cute, it is frightening.
The name comes from graphing human acceptability of a robot versus human appearance of that robot. As you reach the point of almost fully indistinguishable from human, acceptability of the robot drops to zero. As you reach fully human (gathered I guess by showing people images of real humans and claiming they were robots?) you get near 100% acceptability.
Throwing a bridge over the chasm is what Hanson is hoping to do. They have come a long way in realism, but I speculate that's not why their robots are closer to the solution. They have picked imperfect humans to model - those with dirt, with a background, with imperfections - not a human robot who is clean, pure and unblemished. Make it a bit wrinkled, old, dirty, overweight, and with one eye a bit off - and you might just be able to cross the uncanny valley.
The uncanny valley isn't a question of making the robot perfectly human, but one of making the robot rotten with perfection. So close and yet so far - it's what keeps you looking at that striking person, or motivates you to start that relationship. And it might be that model of desire and attraction that will one day make it possible for you to buy a robot to have in your house. But I don't think I'll be picking Albert.