Creepiness is a hard feeling to objectively evaluate, but we dare you to not get creeped out by these realistic robots.
1. Albert Hubo
Albert Hubo was built to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. And what better way to honor such a brilliant and gentle human being than by building a recreation of his head and bolting it to a cartoonish Korean robot in order to impress convention-goers. It was kind of like honoring Gandhi’s lifetime of achievements by digging up his corpse and sewing his decomposed face onto a Transformer so it can dance for nickels outside of the arcade.
Why It’s So, So Creepy
“The Uncanny Valley” is the term used for the disturbing feeling you get when something is incredibly lifelike and human, but some small aspect or feature of it throws the perception off. Like the jerky way a robot moves that’s not quite convincing, the stilting way it talks that’s not quite natural or, in this case, the fact that it’s only a human head crudely stapled to an anime-style mech. That’s not slipping down the Uncanny Valley, that’s being jump kicked down the Uncanny Stairwell.
The only thing creepier than building an entire robot to resemble a human being, is only building one small part of a robot to look like a human being–leaving the rest as cold, hard steel. Don’t believe us? There’s nothing too creepy about C-3PO, right? In fact, meeting him would be pretty neat. Now, imagine that as you shake his hand, your eyes slowly drift downward, and you notice that he’s entirely golden–just as usual–except for two tiny, pink human feet. Suddenly it’s Horror Camp, and you’re staying the whole summer.
Jules is the flagship android for Hanson Robotics, also responsible for Albert Hubo up there. Jules is their most lifelike robot to date, both in physical appearance and artificial intelligence. He comes equipped with some basic servos in his arms and torso, and some seriously advanced animatronics throughout his head and face. He even has hi-res cameras in both eyes so that he can “see, and track people” to help him “lock-on to his conversation partners.”
Why It’s So, So Creepy
At first glance Jules isn’t so bad. He’s just lifelike enough to put you the littlest bit at ease. You might be a bit uncomfortable interacting with Jules, but nothing unbearable, and everything about him is carefully designed to minimize even that small discomfort. He is specifically built to be androgynous, he speaks with a pleasing pseudo-British accent, and the default state of his facial expression is happily bewildered, like a confused puppy. That is, until Jules turns to profile:
And you see that the back half of his skull has been sheared off, leaving only a mass of twisted wires and whirring motors.
However, it’s not until you get into Jules’ personality software that things start to get really, truly creepy. You see, because Jules remembers conversations and learns from them, Hanson Robotics insists that “if you treat Jules poorly, it may not be nice to you.”
Hold up a minute. Let’s get this straight: If you dis Jules, he’ll note it, remember it and respond in kind. You know, we have a word for that in the English language:
The Actroid was designed to serve as a receptionist and an information booth attendant. She has an intensive AI geared towards question-and-answer sessions and resembles an attractive go-go dancer from outer space because, you know, she was designed by a Japanese guy.
Why It’s So, So Creepy
The Actroid is fairly tame on the creepy scale … just as long as she remains immobile. She kind of resembles a high-end wax figurine of a big-boned Caucasian transvestite utterly failing to pass as a cute Asian girl, and that’s not so bad. Nothing we wouldn’t see on a typical business lunch with our fellow Cracked employees, anyway. It’s when she starts moving that you get both barrels of the Uncanny Shotgun:
The disturbingly fluid movements punctuated by the jarring stops, the bizarre, puppet-like posturing and a facial expression that says, “I’m a hip, young, urban professional that hungers for the lives of your babies,” creep us out exponentially.
WD-2 is a shape-shifting “Face-Bot” meant to simulate the subtle intricacies and nuances of human facial expressions. It operates under the theory that there are 17 key points of mobility in the human face, and that by lending greater versatility to these points, a robot can perfectly mimic the ever-changing expressions of the human face without appearing unnatural or disconcerting. The robot provokes a more human level of interaction by “driving a motorized shaft into the face and twisting at the desired point to create a convincing emotional response.”
The CB2 is another project developed by the human-hating Professor Ishiguro at the Science and Technology Department of Japan’s Osaka University. It’s a 4-foot-tall, 100-pound baby with the physical and intellectual abilities of a 2-year-old. It was built with cameras for sight, microphones and speakers for speech and hearing, and over 200 tactile sensors to simulate a sense of touch and feeling. It was designed to … facilitate human understanding … of … no, come on, what the fuck could this thing possibly be designed for?
There are zero practical uses, and the only thing it can teach you is acute horror. This robot was designed to say only one thing: Fuck you rest of the civilized world, love Japan.
Why It’s So, So Creepy
It’s a giant baby with the power of a robot.
Every single letter of that sentence is horrific. It looks like you defrosted a frozen infant in the microwave and then forgot about it for a few days. It has disproportionately giant, black eyes, like a shark. It has gray, baggy skin that hangs flaccidly from its bulging form, like a decomposing corpse.
It speaks in a cooing, infantile voice, asking you for love and attention and thanks to its advanced tactile, audio and visual sensors, it can stumble across the room after you if you don’t respond. And here’s Professor Ishiguro’s research assistant, poking it in the Goddamn face again.
Listen, kid, we know you’re probably an unpaid intern just trying to get some kicks out of an otherwise shitty situation, but could you just stop provoking the terrifying robots?
These things are built to respond to outside stimuli, and you do nothing but piss them off all day. If you don’t heed our advice right quick, you may find yourself standing in a darkened lab, the other assistants having long since left for the day. The fluorescent lights in the hallway spill a wan illumination across the tile floors. You’ve forgotten your keys–again. You’ve been particularly absent minded lately. A blue light shines in the darkness. Ah, you’ve even forgotten to shut off the robots! You start towards the light, making your way by feel in the pale dusk of the dim office, but the light is gone. Or no … it’s just off to the left now. You locked the robots in the supply cage, didn’t you? The light is closer now. You make out a form in the darkness, small and indistinct.