Once the Elvis Presley is mass-produced, we’ll be able to crush the Federation in no time

typed for your pleasure on 2 January 2008, at 2.17 am

Sdtrk: ‘A stairway to the stars’ by The caretaker

Anyone who’s ever been on an airplane owned by an American airline in the past couple of decades has more than likely flipped merrily through a SkyMall catalogue. Taking consumer excess to zany new extremes, the SkyMall selection consists of overpriced rubbish, designed for ostensible convenience, aimed at people with more money than sense. Things like motorised illuminated tie racks, or a Murphy bed for dogs, or garden sculptures shaped like a yeti, or nearly anything with the word ‘executive’ appended to the front of the title. You think I’m joking?

Recently, my pal Zip Gun came back from a flight with a copy of a recent catalogue, with a page dog-eared just for me:

A hunka hunka burning silicone

“Alive Elvis” animatronic robot moves, talks and sings just like “The King” in his “’68 Comeback Special”!

Elvis Presley–the biggest-selling and most charismatic solo artist in music history–is captured here in all his heartbreaking glory, just as he looked on television’s legendary “Elvis ’68 Comeback Special.”

“Alive Elvis” is a lifelike and life-size bust of Elvis Presley. State-of-the-art technologies–multiple infrared vision sensors, stereo speakers, 10 precision motors with motion-capture facial animations, and 21st century materials–have been used by Wowwee to lovingly craft a robot that looks, feels, sounds and moves like a real person. Wowwee Alive Elvis is the first high-quality animatronic robot of any superstar ever designed for a fan’s home or office.
taken from this page

That’s right; clear out a special place in your home right now for 1/5th of an Android Elvis. The descriptions, both on the SkyMall page and the manufacturer’s site, are kinda disappointing, as the SkyMall print catalogue gets a little sexy with the descriptive phrases — things like ‘stroke his lifelike hair’ and ‘gaze into his baby blue eyes’; things of that nature. So I suppose if you 1) are a Technosexual, and 2) love Elvis beyond all reason, then this product is made specifically for you. Certainly I fall into the first category, but much like Nineties alt.pop group The Wonder Stuff, I’ve never loved Elvis. I don’t even like him as a friend!

Which begs the question: How much money will I have to give WowWee for them to make an Alive™ France Gall? Come on, people, don’t crush my pervy dreams

Technorati tags: SkyMall, Elvis Presley, robots, Androids, Technosexuals, WowWee, France Gall, yeti

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typed for your pleasure on 20 November 2007, at 2.49 am

Sdtrk: ‘Jeane’ by the Smiths

Under normal circumstances, when I hear the word ‘children’, I automatically think ‘leash laws’, but this article on the Telegraph’s website reminds me that children really are the future.
Great, now I’ve got that goddamned Whitney Houston song running through my head.

Children treat nursery robot as a human
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor | Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 06/11/2007

Child-like robots are being developed for nursery schools after researchers found that toddlers are able to regard their artificial friends as human.

The key step for robots to help teachers is for the automatons to be accepted by toddlers as social peers who are worth paying attention to – and bonding with – a hurdle that is crossed today in a study published by a team from the University of California, San Diego, UCSD.

Robots are capable of impressive mechanical feats, but the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences now shows that researchers are close to solving more difficult challenge: being accepted as being a peer, at least by the smaller members of our species.

The problem is that most robots do not hold a toddler’s attention. The most successful so far have been storytellers, but even these can only hold interest for approximately 10 hours.

Now Dr Fumihide Tanaka of UCSD and colleagues has done much better by introducing a prototype “social robot” into a classroom of toddlers for five months.

A human controller sent very occasional instructions for the robot to turn its head or perform an action like giggling or dancing. The robot was programmed to lie down when its batteries were running out. Often children would put a blanket on him, saying “night-night”. Early in the study, some children even cried when he keeled over.

The researchers videotaped the sessions and scored the quality of the interactions, noting that the children’s social contact with the robot increased over time.

The children lost interest when the robot was reprogrammed to dance randomly, but the robot again became popular after resuming its original operating mode. “By the last sessions, five months later, they treated the robot as a peer rather than as a toy,” the team reports.
the rest of the article is here

This is an incredibly important aspect to upcoming Synthetik/Organik interaction, as if a child grows up alongside robots, they won’t develop a needless fear of or prejudice against robots. Obviously, there more than enough blinkered adults out there now who’ve watched the ‘Terminator’ movies and took them as fact, but kids don’t have that ridiculous conditioning. It’s my hope that successive generations of Organiks can see Synthetiks as their equals, but it’s obviously best to start raising children with that sort of open-mindedness as soon as possible. It’s like any prejudice against any race, colour, creed, etc, really — stamp it out early, and your children develop into better human beings. Kudos, UCSD researchers!

On the passive Synthetik (we just call ’em Dolls) front, 4woods does good again, with the release of the 小悪魔 (‘Little Devil’) version of their somewhat-dour-yet-cute Neu lass, only available for viewing on the Japanese side of the site. A saucy minx!

Give her a black pair of PVC bat wings, and she’s a RYU’S FORM SITE character

Now all she is, really, is a tattooed version of their Neu Doll, with a darker paint scheme and a brown wig. Does she genuinely count as a new Doll? Err… maybe? She’s a rarer version of a (semi-)rare Doll, rather like when DeLorean made the limited edition gold version of their fantastic automobile.
I have to say that I prefer the Little Devil Neu over the bog-standard version, but I would say that. But how long will those tattoos last, is my question? Get your photos in as soon as you can before they rub off!

Not to be outdone, Orient industry have released yet another variation of their popular CandyGirl Jewel line, called CandyGirl Jewel Diva. Much like their CandyGirl Jewel Rosa series, these gorgeous lasses get my Seal of Approval.

If I were her, I’d be staring at my foot, too

At about 5’3″ (taller than the Missus?), just shy of 75 lbs (34 kgs) and with the measurements 34 / 26 / 38, they’re fantastic enough, but the distinction that really sets them apart from all seventy-two of the other types of CandyGirl are their more realistically-sculpted faces. In fact, the Mao-type (pictured above) kinda resembles 4woods’ Mitsumi. Not that I’m complaining. Sexy? Yes!

And finally, performance artist and iDollator Amber Hawk Swanson has slapped together a fine site of her own that details her various projects and appearances, and features a passel of photos and video of her with her Doll twin/bride. Go check it out!

‘Shouting to hear the echoes’. We’ve seen the future, and it’s silicone-based

Technorati tags: robots, Androids, Gynoids, 4woods, Orient industry, iDollators, RealDolls, Amber Hawk Swanson

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A clang, followed by another clang

typed for your pleasure on 31 August 2007, at 11.31 am

Sdtrk: ‘Love of the loved’ by Cilla Black

Obviously Norelco were racking their brains, wondering how to specifically grab my attention. Gentlemen, your research dollars were not entirely wasted.

Much like Björk’s famous ‘All is full of love‘ video, the Heineken DraughtKeg Gynoid, and the lass from the Svedka vodka campaign from a couple of years ago, sexy machines are beginning to crop up everywhere. Well, not everywhere, but it’s a start. But when I see marketing like this, it gives me hope that more and more people are becoming more hip and open to the concept of Technosexuality. Fantastic!
She’s actually a live-action version of a character that appears in a Flash-animated serial called ‘Robot skin‘, that looks like a hideously-animated version of The Matrix… as sponsored by Norelco. They piqued my interest, but they failed to hold my interest. Back to the drawing board!

Personally, I prefer my Gynoids with fake skin (a fact well-documented), but I wouldn’t say no to any of these Sorayama-style Synthetiks, especially Norelco’s ‘Grooming Robot’. Shaving is a bloody hassle, but she’d definitely make it fun! Although it wouldn’t cut down on shaving time, meaning of course, ‘time not exactly spent shaving’, nudge nudge wink wink. There’s pros and cons to everything, really

Technorati tags: Gynoid, Android, robot, Hajime Sorayama, Technosexual

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typed for your pleasure on 5 August 2007, at 9.57 pm

Sdtrk: ‘Black ants in sound-dust’ by Stereolab

So it’s recently come to my attention (via an alert reader) that there’s a rare iDollator making a name for herself in the media. Yes, not only is she female — and female Doll owners are as scarce as good Michael Bay films — but her Doll has an extremely distinctive look, as you’ll see below.

left, Amber; right, Amber

The Organik twin’s name is Amber Hawk Swanson, a video and performance artist from Chicago, and her Synthetik twin is named Amber Doll, appropriately enough. Not only did Organik Amber pony up $6000 to have a Hollywood special effects company make a laser-scanned silicone replica of her face for her RealDoll — the date of the scanning process coinciding with her birthdate, making them true twins — but the two of them were married (in matching rented dresses) on 26 January, in a small ceremony in Las Vegas. Apparently they have matching tattoos on their inner wrists as well — Amber Hawk’s reads ‘Bully’, while Amber Doll’s is ‘Prey’.
In their working relationship, Synthetik Amber will be a kind of a stand-in for Organik Amber:

I was looking for a receptacle for the onslaught of attention and negative feedback—a stand-in for myself… it was just the right amount of crazy to order a $12,000 doll.

Sounds like the best kind of crazy, if you ask me!…

Of course, the first thing I thought when I heard of them was hot Synthetik/Organik twin lesbian action. Heh, sorry. So the second thing that came to mind was that the Amber twins remind me of English artist duo Jemima & Dolly Brown, only the Organik Amber seems to be the dominant partner, as opposed to Jemima taking a backseat to Dolly’s ‘personality’ take centre stage. Organik Amber’s compiled a video that details, among other things, Synthetik Amber at Abyss creations and their wedding, called ‘To Have, To Hold, To Violate: The Making of Amber Doll’, which is obviously something that I must see.
It also brings to mind the age-old question, ‘if you have sex with a clone of yourself, is it actually masturbation?’ That’s one for the philosophers…

Alert reader (and relative of Edie Sedgwick) Maisie Sedgwick Deely Emailed me with a link to a story in the New York Times, entitled ‘The Real Transformers‘:

Sociable robots come equipped with the very abilities that humans have evolved to ease our interactions with one another: eye contact, gaze direction, turn-taking, shared attention. They are programmed to learn the way humans learn, by starting with a core of basic drives and abilities and adding to them as their physical and social experiences accrue. People respond to the robots’ social cues almost without thinking, and as a result the robots give the impression of being somehow, improbably, alive.

At the moment, no single robot can do very much. The competencies have been cobbled together: one robot is able to grab a soup can when you tell it to put it on a shelf; another will look you in the eye and make babbling noises in keeping with the inflection of your voice. One robot might be able to learn some new words; another can take the perspective of a human collaborator; still another can recognize itself in a mirror. Taken together, each small accomplishment brings the field closer to a time when a robot with true intelligence — and with perhaps other human qualities, too, like emotions and autonomy — is at least a theoretical possibility. If that possibility comes to pass, what then? Will these new robots be capable of what we recognize as learning? Of what we recognize as consciousness? Will it know that it is a robot and that you are not?
the entire article is here. Since it’s on the money-grubbing New York Times, you’ll have to log in to see the whole thing; in which case, you can either use my login — hope_u_like_it, password 123456 — or get round to bugmenot.com and use another one

Quite an interesting read on the development and ramifications of sociable robots. One of my favourite bits in particular is

[Robot] Kismet’s responses to stimulation were so socially appropriate that some people found themselves thinking that the robot was actually feeling the emotions it was displaying. Breazeal realized how complicated it was to try to figure out what, or even whether, Kismet was feeling. “Robots are not human, but humans aren’t the only things that have emotions,” she said. “The question for robots is not, Will they ever have human emotions? Dogs don’t have human emotions, either, but we all agree they have genuine emotions. The question is, What are the emotions that are genuine for the robot?”

And finally, for those of you who have been wanting to see Nicholas Rucka of Maboroshii Production’s short film ‘RealDoll Doctor’ ever since I mentioned it nigh on two months ago, he says on his blog that it’s apparently been on IFC.com since July. So get round there and see for yourself! It’s definitely worth viewing, so you have no excuse

Technorati tags: Amber Hawk Swanson, Jemima and Dolly Brown, performance art, Abyss creations, RealDoll, sociable robots, documentary

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typed for your pleasure on 10 June 2007, at 2.04 pm

Sdtrk: ‘Tony Williams deathspace’ by Merzbow

Recently, Erin O’Brien, writer for the Cleveland Free Times, wrote a tale entitled ‘Guys and Dolls‘ (a popular title! I can’t imagine why) about her experiences hanging out for a couple of weeks on The Doll Forum.

Owners of the eerily realistic dolls are the butt of jokes and the subjects of unsolicited psychological analysis and feminist soapboxes worldwide. Nonetheless, RealDoll fascinated me and I smoldered with curiosity about those who admire her.

Granted, there are a couple of parts where her impressions come off as unflattering, but for the most part, it’s an even-handed piece which doesn’t condemn, as she took direct quotes from Doll owners themselves. She’d also written a companion post in her blog, as well as a follow-up post.

Her article caused a bit of a storm in a teacup, as several iDollators weren’t initially civil to her, which may have coloured her opinions slightly. But being an iDollator myself, I can entirely understand, as there have been several occasions where opportunistic writers have come a-calling to the Forum, looking to dig up some dirt on this weird and creepy subculture of bizarre perverts, and with a topic like this, frankly, a single smear campaign is one too many. So a natural reaction to outsiders is one of snarling suspicion, which, as far as I’m concerned, is pretty justified. More writers — particularly, writers who genuinely want to present Doll owners in a positive, or at the very least, neutral, light — need to do their homework beforehand, and realise that we iDollators are fiercely protective of our interest, our hobby, our lifestyle, our partners. Cos as time goes on, we’ll be swelling the ranks, but right now, we’re in the minority, and at this stage, bad publicity is worse than none at all.
But, having said that, I do admire Erin for not only sticking to her guns, but for coming up with a non-prejudicial piece. At the very least, she made an honest effort to understand our culture, which is more than I can say for most people.

Moving on! Naturally, anyone that knows me on any level above that of ‘aquaintance’ knows that I’m very pro-robotics, particularly when those robots closely resemble Organiks. However, in the interest of objectivity and possible debate, here’s an article that presents the other side of the coin:

Should robots be built to look more like us?
By Eric Hand

When it comes down to it, Lewis the robot isn’t much more than a red trash can on wheels. And its designer, Washington University computer scientist William Smart, likes it that way.

“I don’t want to put fuzzy heads on my robots,” he said. “It’s a tool. You don’t have an emotional relationship with a robot.”

Whether or not the relationships are emotional, robots are certainly becoming more social. Especially in Japan, where robots are doing everything from collecting garbage to bathing the elderly to providing child care. Lewis, a picture-taking robot, also has a social role — to linger on the edges of gatherings and catch people in candid poses.

As these social robots lurch their way into our lives, a question arises: What should they look like? Some scientists say they should look and talk like people, and take advantage of people’s tendencies to personify. (Think C3PO.) Others, such as Smart, say they should remain fundamentally nonhuman — intelligent and capable of reading people, but not obviously anthropomorphic. (Think R2D2.)

“It’s definitely a design decision, and it’s one that doesn’t have an obvious answer,” said Brian Scassellati, a Yale University computer scientist.
the rest of the article is here

I can respect where Mr Smart is coming from, but obviously I can’t agree with him. As robotic creations edge their way into mainstream society, I definitely believe there’ll be a need for non-anthropomorphic robots to perform non-obtrusive, behind-the-scenes tasks, but there’ll also be a need for more human-like Synthetiks, such as Actroid et al, to undertake more social duties, such as child-minding, nursing, err, receptionist… ing. And you certainly can’t call something with any advanced artificial intelligence a ‘tool’. There’s absolutely no reason why all robots have to resemble rolling wheelie bins; it’s limiting and unimaginative. That’d be the equivalent of decreeing that all cars must resemble the Subaru 360. Waitaminute — that’s a fantastic idea!

And finally, something on the Good end of the Interesting spectrum: Nick Rucka of DiY film studio Maboroshii Productions is preparing to screen his 2002 documentary, ‘Real Doll Doctor‘. He was kind enough to post me an advance copy, and despite the tired appeal to ‘pervs and fans of the weird’, it’s a rather objective documentary. Clocking in at 14 min, it simply details our favourite Doll refurbisher inking up someone’s arm at his day job, and at work repairing a lass. There’s no soundtrack, but I find that could focus the viewer’s attention to what’s being said. Much like Erin’s article, it’s open-ended and entirely nonjudgemental, although it could do with a wee bit of narrative background, especially over the scenes in the (old) Abyss creations studios. I look at it this way — there’s always going to be a viewer who really doesn’t know what the whole RealDoll phenomenon is, so a bit of background wouldn’t go amiss. Hell, I’d volunteer to do the narration if I had the technological means to do so…
Nick tells me that IFC.com has confirmed that they’ll be hosting his film, so keep an eye out for it!

‘Shouting to hear the echoes’: Synthetiks news you can use! As per usual

An alternate universe Erin logs into ‘The Organik Forum’

Technorati tags: robots, RealDoll, Abyss creations, iDollators, documentary

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typed for your pleasure on 21 January 2007, at 2.28 am

Sdtrk: ‘Franz Ferdinand might be from Glasgow and that’s alright but their music is a pile of pussy fucking shite and then christ destroys us’ by Jansky noise

It’s entirely reassuring to know that there are still a number of people alive in Japan, that still know how to construct karakuri. Even more reassuring is the fact that they’ve made the knowledge available to others, ensuring it’ll never be lost to obscurity. So you’ll be pleased to learn that the company Karakuriya, who specialise in building karakuri dolls to the original Edo-era (1603 to 1867) specs, have a number of models on offer. Get those wallets ready though, as the average price runs about — brace yourself — $8000 USD.

Left: in work clothes. Right: off the clock

Karakuri dolls were the first automata in Japan.
Their movements are caused by the power of springs, mercury and sand. You can build them and take them apart easily without ever using metallic screws or nails. […] Karakuri dolls are a representative of the highest technology in the Edo period.
It was difficult to pass the tradition down from generation to generation, because their production required not only the knowledge, but also a high level of craftsmanship.
It is called as a treasure trove since few original designs from those days still exist, and complete ones are even more rare.

If I had a choice between purchasing one of these and, say, a MyPartyDoll, the answer’s embarrassingly clear-cut. But you definitely have to admire the dedication of the craftsmanship behind each karakuri ningyou. Two different types of wood, silk fabrics and gold brocade for the clothes, and special clay used to sculpt the hand-painted head. And each one is made-to-order, as they take 20 – 40 days to carve, paint, and assemble.
And remember, if you don’t exactly have the dosh on hand to splash out for the more ‘luxury’ version, there’s always the more reasonably-priced version; a snip at $170 USD. Hmmm. *stroking chin*

I’m sure you’ll be able to find out a shedload more information about karakuri at nippon-karakuri.com, but as of this writing, they’re still working on their English page. Nevertheless!
Also, I’ll have Sidore post a karakuri video or two to her Dailymotion.com page on the usual update date of the 23rd — if I can find the clip, that is. It’s around here somewhere

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The fact that I wasn’t told about this is a tragedy

typed for your pleasure on 2 August 2006, at 7.25 pm

Sdtrk: ‘Broke my neck (Long version)’ by Echo and the Bunnymen

Right; someone needs to buy me a plane ticket and fly me out to this event right fucking now.

Obligatory photo of Ando-san, but you expected that

Once, Twice, Three Times an Android
New Gallery Exhibition Showcases Robot Women, Electronic Eves

Queens, N.Y. – Lara Croft, the Japanese robot Repliee Q2, and the Stepford Wives are a few of the artificial women pictured in Alluring Androids, Robot Women, and Electronic Eves, a new gallery exhibition opening June 17 at the New York Hall of Science.

Exploring artists’, filmmakers’, and photographers’ long-time fascination with images of artificial women that seem alive, Alluring Androids, Robot Women, and Electronic Eves contains large images of female robots, androids, automatons, dolls, mannequins, and other artificial women. These include images from films, photography, intermedia art, animation, and video ranging from early automatons to the life-like female androids in today’s video and computer games.

The exhibit is curated by State University of New York, Maritime College Professor Julie Wosk, author of Women and the Machine: Representations From the Spinning Wheel to the Electronic Age and Breaking Frame: Technology and the Visual Arts in the Nineteenth Century.

Alluring Androids, Robot Women, and Electronic Eves will be on view in the Walter O. LeCroy Gallery through September 10.

Why do I never learn about these things in time?? That exhibit had better be touring, and it had better stop in Michigan

Technorati tags: Android, Gynoid, Actroid, Repliee

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