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Do we need humanoids to show the progress in AI ?

Posted at — Oct 29, 2017 by Abishek Muthian

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Elektro from Westinghouse Electric Corporation

That’s the 1939 promo video of the robot (air quotes) — Elektro from Westinghouse Electric Corporation demoed at New York World’s Fair.

Now this,

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Sophia from Hanson Robotics

That is Sophia — the Artificial Intelligence (air quotes again) powered robot from Hanson robotics at Future Investment Insitute event in Saudi Arabia 2017 & also yes she supposedly got their citizenship ! Good work, Hanson robotics.


Though both are 78 years apart they are intended for one thing — gimmick. Now, I’m not telling Sophia & Elektro are same; ofcourse decades of improvement in mechatronics does make Sophia a better humanoid, but is she the correct benchmark to showcase the progress in Artificial Intelligence?

I get it, thanks to hollywood & popular culture in general; people see a sentinent human-like machine to be the epitome of technology. But this perception is actually counter-intuitive to asses the actual progress in AI.

Some backstory

When I was doing my Computer Science Engineering course at a prominent college, I built a simple collision avoiding robot on which I was testing efficiency of different algorithms. The CS department of that time weren’t known robotics and in-fact I along with couple of my class mates were the first to conduct first ever robotics event from our department.

At one point in my robot, I faced some obstacle with the micro-controller and I was in need of help. I reached out to a professor, who held a doctoral degree and is a qualified, friendly person to help out students.

When I showcased by robot and told the issue I was facing, I was told that a robot which doesn’t climb down on stairs isn’t a robot at all.

“Robot which doesn’t climb down on stairs isn’t a robot at all”

Of-course I didn’t receive the help I needed at that point and it would be fair to say the popular culture’s bias toward’s robotics had an negative impact on my professor, who otherwise is just on most other topics; which I’ve interacted with him. Perhaps, he had seen a bit too much of HONDA’s ASIMO videos. But ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) was carefully designed & perfected over years to do just that — climbing stairs (which is super cool Btw). It would be unfair to call robots which don’t climb stairs isn’t robot at all.


Humanoids aren’t the benchmark for AI

Just like no humans are perfect in every skill, it’s not smart to state that the ultimate AI is the one which behaves like a human; especially when we are just starting to explore our own consiousness.

The advancement in cost-effective computation has resulted in explosion of Artificial Intelligence research, which has directly resulted in the betterment of consumer products.


Headless AI

The real progress in the field of Artificial Intelligence is made via headless AI i.e where you needn’t put a talking robot to state it’s using AI but actually improving the consumer’s lifestyle by the background tasks performed by an AI.


Taking better pictures


Google’s Lens app gives you realtime information about the content you see through your smartphone’s camera. Not just that, advancement in AI has resulted in taking better professional quality pictures using your smartphone camera.

Identifying yourself

Apple iPhone X’s Face ID can supposedly authenticate you accurately, all with local hardware system even when your face is wet or under low light conditions. It can learn the changes on your face and adapt to it as time progresses; thanks to neural networks.

Driving safely

Tesla's Autopilot provides hands-free drive assist feature and is intended on adding more features for road safety.

List goes on …


Do we really need humanoids to showcase the progress in AI? Not really. I got no beef with humanoids in general, a robot mimicking human emotions would be essential in certain scenarios where companionship are key like medical treatment, sex etc; but judging the progress in AI with just humanoids is not good for Artificial Intelligence industry.

Especially when headless AI has been improving your lifestyle as you read!

Change Log

28-May-2022 Removed affiliate links, One lesser package to be delivered by the poor Amazon delivery personnel.


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