Everyone should have one

What could be more interesting than having a person who looks and thinks exactly as you do walking around the planet?

Andy Wilson

What could be more interesting than having a person who looks and thinks exactly as you do walking around the planet? I should know, since I have an identical twin brother -- one that dresses in a similar manner, likes the same types of films, and even behaves in a similar fashion.

Of course, having a twin brother has both its advantages and disadvantages. If I don't have a tie to attend a wedding reception, I know that I can find one in my brother's closet. If I need to be assured that I have written a great editorial, I know that my look-alike will agree.

One of the disadvantages of having such a clone, however, is that many people cannot discriminate between the two of us. This occurred on numerous occasions when my brother and I visited the VISION 2012 tradeshow in Stuttgart. Often I was greeted with the phrase, "Which one are you?" to which I wittily replied, "Why, I am the handsome one."

Somewhat frighteningly, the days when you too may have an identical twin are fast approaching. Such humanoid robots may not appear overnight but perhaps will slowly start to emerge over the coming decades.

Some relatively unsophisticated robotic deices are already available. Today, you can purchase an automated robot vacuum cleaner for $200. For hundreds of dollars more, you can invest in a robotic lawnmower. Like the industrial robots and vision systems described in this issue, these systems eliminate repetitive, labor-intensive functions while increasing the efficiency and productivity of your household.

However, propelled by advances in image sensors, image-processing algorithms, miniature electromechanical systems, and synthetic prosthetics, humanoid systems are already appearing within the confines of major research organizations and Fortune 500 companies worldwide.

One particularly eerie robot known as Jules -- built by Hanson Robotics -- can be seen at http://bcove.me/3v0d3oop. In the video clip our humanoid friend asks whether he will dream when he is shut down. Another developed at Osaka University has been designed to replicate the facial expressions of a model. "I felt like I had a twin sister," the model was quoted as saying after the demonstration (http://bit.ly/dfXY3j).

At present, these types of humanoids may cost more than $100,000 and are designed for research purposes, but beyond that, the development of such systems raises a moral dilemma. While DNA cloning of humans is now illegal, the same rules do not apply to the creation of robotic systems. Should your pet dog get run down by a car, for example, would it be morally acceptable to build a replica? Many would say that it was. But would they say the same for a human being?

If Isaac Asimov were alive, I'm sure he would only be too willing to add a new rule to his Three Laws of Robotics to reflect the moral implications of these developments.

Andy WilsonAndy Wilson, Editor in Chief
andyw@pennwell.com
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