Treading the circuit boards: Android actor makes her stage debut in Japan

Nick Duerden asks whether the world is ready for a ham with (micro) chips
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The Independent Tech

The world's first android actress has made her – or, strictly speaking, its – stage debut in Japan. Called Geminoid F, it's an exact copy of a woman in her 20s with long dark hair and boasting an ability, much like any real actor, of being able to smile and frown (although not, it must be said, simultaneously). It's opening performance in Osaka has reportedly gone down rather well with the audience, if not its flesh-and-bone counterparts.

"I kind of feel like I'm alone on stage," said one female co-star. "There's a bit of distance ... [and not] a human presence."

Developed by Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University, the android is activated by remote control. Online footage of its acting prowess does reveal it to be rather wooden, although no more so than anything on display in, say, Avatar. This is not Ishiguro's first attempt at relegating human beings to the sidelines. He has previously made scale models of both his four-year-old daughter and himself, but this new F version (the F stands for female) is the most technologically advanced, and does look uncannily lifelike. "I felt like I had a twin sister," gulped the woman upon whom it was modelled.

As an example of vorsprung durch technik, this is undoubtedly an impressive feat of complicated 21st-century wizardry, a waxwork come to life, but as for any designs on it becoming an actress, one does have to wonder why. If art is the ultimate expression of humanity, why create it artificially? Though it is true that range has never been a stumbling block for your average soap star, the Geminoid F does appear to have – frown and smile aside – rather restricting limitations, not least its Dalek-like inability to manage stairs.

So what acting ambitions could its Frankenstein creators have for it? Because, frankly, it would struggle with rom-com. Then again, in a world where movies are increasingly computer-generated and computer-simulated, perhaps F's inevitably improved successors might find a niche. It certainly has one overridingly appealing factor for any prospective producer: retailing at just ¥10m (about £75,000), it makes Angelina Jolie seem hideously overpaid. AndHollywood might approve of that.

This is just the latest case of robots taking over humankind. In 2008, a cute piece of plastic with elbow joints called Asimo, developed by those clever people at Honda, conducted a piece of classical music in front of a live orchestra in Detroit.

Its efforts were judged, not just by the potentially un-metropolitan Detroit theatre audience but also by critics, to be rather impressive, with Asimo apparently every bit as capable of waving its hands rhythmically and manically around as any mop-haired conductor could.

The most immediate plans for the Geminoid F are not, just yet, for the silver screen, but rather for use in hospitals, presumably as ancillaries to medics rather than medics themselves.

"We've already got some data showing that the robot gave patients psychological security by nodding and smiling at them," said a spokeswoman for one of the companies involved in its development, while Professor Ishiguro insists that though "new technology always creates fears and negative opinions", he simply wants to create something similar to human emotion. In other words: give me a chance.

But given that humans can already create human emotion quite nicely, thanks, do we really need something to replicate that artificially?