The 13th Floor

His Name is Charles the Robot… and He’s Watching You Very Closely

It seems the snarky but stylish “social robot” Sophia [recently spotted rocking a new look] now has some serious competition for a starring role in your next nightmare… or perhaps as Imperious Leader of the robot uprising that will “destroy humans” (Sophia’s own words).

His name is Charles, and while he’s not nearly as urbane and conversational as his earlier counterpart (he doesn’t talk or have a body below the shoulders), he’s about 100 times more terrifying… and not just because he looks like he’d murder you in your sleep and smile while doing it — no, it’s the A.I. inside that creepy head that’s really spooky.

Built by Cambridge University’s Department of Computer Science and Technology, Charles is designed to do one thing: study and mimic human emotions through facial expressions alone.

Based on the above excerpt from BBC EARTH LAB, it would seem they still have a lot of work ahead of them to make Charles look more “engaging” and less “skin-wearing serial killer.”

Behind that terror-face is an elaborate system of motors designed to mimic the actions of human facial muscles. These are in turn driven by an A.I. program designed to read our emotions through the subtle changes in our faces, as viewed through a camera integrated with the system.

“We’ve been interested in seeing if we can give computers the ability to understand social signals, to understand facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture and gesture,” Professor Peter Robinson told Cambridge News.

Image Credit: BBC Earth Lab via YouTube

“We thought it would also be interesting to see if the computer… could actually exhibit those same characteristics , and see if people engage with it more because it is showing the sort of responses in its facial expressions that a person would show.”

Robinson does admit that Charles is still a work in progress, stating “the motors are just not like human muscles… and the monitoring of the human face we’re using at the moment is just not quite good enough and so it looks unnatural.” (That’s putting it mildly.)

But Robinson claims the discomfort people feel during a sit-down with Charles provides valuable data — because people are instinctively good at noticing when something is wrong with another person’s facial expressions. “It could be a sign that they’re ill or something else,” he says.

Image Credit: BBC Earth Lab via YouTube

I’m going go ahead and say it’s “something else” that’s bothering me. Seriously, will Charles or his robotic peers like Sophia be taking over the world any time soon?

“The answer is no,” the professor states. “You just pull the plug out.”

Oh, sure… I wonder why I’m still not convinced?