Any Synthetiks-related news, Davecat? (Jun 2007)

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 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

13 have spoken to “Any Synthetiks-related news, Davecat? (Jun 2007)”

  1. SafeTinspector writes:

    I loved the caption.

    As for the rest, well, you know how I stand on the anthropomorphic thing. For awhile there will be difficulty crossing the uncanny valley, during which time making the robots more obviously artificial may actually make them more acceptable–at least in the USA.
    After that, I guess all bets are off. But I think there is more beauty to be found in mathematically perfect curves, exotic textures, tasteful internal/external/running lighting and in movement sets inaccessible to we crudely formed creatures than there would be in a precise replication thereof.

  2. PBShelley writes:

    One word: Aesthetics!

    Okay, that’s actually three. Er, seven. Nine. Ten –

    Anyway, I enjoyed the Blog somewhat better than the article itself. Editors work their wills on the final product, and this oftentimes diverges from the writer’s intent. But Erin gets an “A” for effort, and for putting up with the griefers 😉

    It’s kind of reverse karma from all the sensationalistic BS that gets printed about us. But she put in her time 😉

    And as handy as C3PO was, I’d much rather be looking at the replicants from Bladerunner 😉

  3. Davecat writes:

    PBS and ladies –
    Heh; we know how editors can warp perfectly good articles into something almost entirely contra-productive. *coughMeghan’sarticlecough* *coughthatMarieClaireUKarticlecough* But yes, Erin does get an A for effort, at the very least…

    In a perfect world, there’s a place for Sorayama-style Gynoids, Actroids, AIBOs, Roombas, and all points in between. That’s actually why I think a Gynoid like Miss Rong Cheng is fab, as she bridges the gap between machine-like machines and human-like machines. Same for Wakamaru, or the Tamanoi vinegar robot, for that matter.

    Ergh, ‘the uncanny valley’. Three words that I don’t care to hear. Much like ‘creepy’.
    Society has to realise that the first Androids and Gynoids out of the R&D gates aren’t going to be flawless in appearance and motion. They might have slightly stilted movements, or their skin might not be entirely lifelike, but people simply have to take that in stride. It’s called development. A good equivalent is if auto manufacturers decided, during the early years of car design and assembly, that they’d just wait and hold back releasing cars to the populace until they finally mastered something like cruise control, or air conditioning. Remember how ASIMO used to look? Just because Synthetiks aren’t completely to most people’s standards shouldn’t mean that companies should simply hide them from public view until they’re deemed ‘acceptable’.

    And besides, some of us are quite alright with slightly stilted motion or rubbery skin. 😉

  4. Wanda writes:

    I have quite another take on O’Brien and her article.

    “Then I discovered that the troubling questions had come from a woman who owns a female doll. The revelation stunned me.”

    Why did the “revelation” that a woman owned a–gasp!–female doll stun her? (I guess it’s news to her that there are bisexual women in the world.)

    And why were my questions “troubling”? She doesn’t say. And she never answered. In fact, I PM’d and e-mailed her offering to talk about anything she wanted. She never responded. She did not want to talk to me.

    Wouldn’t you have been a little suspicious of someone who claimed to be a writer wanting information about the doll world ignoring your offers to provide it?

    I was disgusted at how I was put down in that thread and O’Brien defended when I actually own a doll and have been a member of that forum for years–and have suffered abuse and humiliation for being open and public about my doll ownership. Only Vanessa really stepped in and defended me–fiercely defended me. Bill and Rentell were in my corner, Rentell citing my post in TDG quoting Rosie Walsh of Bristol TV, and suggesting maybe I had reasons for what I was doing; and Bill offering me to be a moderator, or at least an advisor to TDF.

    But nobody else took my back. Not the guys who used to beg me for free phone sex or the guy who wanted to marry me or the guy who still chases around my legs like a puppy dog. Nobody. So I quit the Doll Forum and I am done with the doll world for good.

    My last interview on the subject is in the current issue of the UK edition of Forum, Vol 41, No. 3.

    Davecat, I think you will enjoy reading this article. The author, Petra Joy, did a very good job. It is positive, even pro-doll. And I had absolutely no issues with Petra. She’s totally cool. We’re pretty good pals.

    Oh, and PBS, I know you know about this article because you dropped by my blog and clicked on the scan of the article I put up. Too bad you couldn’t bring yourself to post a comment to me about it.

  5. SafeTinspector writes:

    The uncanny valley is more than just a failure to empathize with stilted movements, it is a biological response our primate selves have to someone who isn’t acting “right”. Its part of the fight-or-flight response we’re still saddled with due to being mammals.

    Evolution has favored those who quickly spot someone acting suspiciously. Sneaking, trying to be quiet, suffering from debilitating and possibly contagious disease, acting under the geas of another, whatever. We are bred to spot visual cues in the eye movements, facial expressions and body language of our fellow humans and a very primitive part of us puts up red flags when our expectations are defied. Its semi-involuntary, like breathing.

    We talked about this before, and my suggestion is that developers try to skip the valley entirely in their production units. That is, development units that are trying to get there will be, as you say, unavoidably in the valley. Until they AREN’T, then gynoids and androids and other anthropobots should either go for “cute,” which is more forgiving than other movement sets, or should use movement sets completely dissimilar from normal humanity.

    Like pop-and-blocking. everyone loves a good popper!

  6. SafeTinspector writes:

    Did you catch the “Threat Down” on Colbert Report yesterday?
    It was ALL about bears, robots and robot bears. reasonably funny, just keep in mind that Stephen’s persona is a satirical take on right-wing punditry and you’ll be fine. 🙂

  7. Davecat writes:

    My favourite quote from roboticist David Hanson (the bloke who’s working on a Gynoid patterned after an ex-girlfriend of his) would be ‘[The uncanny valley is] really pseudoscientific, but people treat it like it is science.’

    If it truly is something genetically ingrained in our mammal persona — which I only partially give credit for, as there are many people out there who simply don’t pick up on non-verbal cues — then it can be surpassed. When a human is born, it has to be taught thousands of things. I just think that society has to be taught how to handle interactions with Androids and Gynoids appropriately. You see an Actroid, you think ‘ah, this is not an Organik human, and Synthetik humans move and behave in such-and-such fashion,’ and their mammal instinct gives them the thumbs-up. Much like what you’d said in a comment long ago (yes, still working on importing comments from my old blog) about how animals use a different set of non-verbal cues. We’ve learned those; why should learning the ones of Synthetiks be an exception?
    But then, unfortunately, people are magnificently stupid. I mean, how many of them think professional wrestling is genuine? Or think Stephen Colbert is actually a right-winger?

    And you know me, SafeT; I haven’t watched broadcast television since ‘Seinfeld’ went off the air…

  8. Davecat writes:

    Wanda, long time no hear! 🙂

    Thanks for presenting your side of things — I’d heard tell that you quit the Forum, but you shouldn’t let that experience drive you away from the world of Dolls. At this stage of things, the occasional negative press is part and parcel of being an iDollator, but that’s because we’re so out there with our uniqueness and innovation. And you know, the common herd fears what it doesn’t understand. But at the same time, it should be a wee bit empowering, as you know you’re helping to drag society out of desperately outmoded thinking, or at the very least, encouraging debate and opening a few eyes. And if all else fails, at least you’re happy with your Doll.
    Heh; this is one of the many reasons why I need to get back to TDF; I’m missing a metric ton of things…

    That is bizarre how Erin didn’t want to speak with you, however. Equally bizarre is how she didn’t think you were female — your TDF username is Wanda, is it not? — but then, Vanessa is the Doll posting, not her owner. Either way, she should’ve at least granted you an audience, seeing as that you’re one of the few female Doll owners, and a public one at that, which is rarer still…
    You should seriously post something similar to what you’ve written here on Erin’s blog! What’s she gonna do, delete it? Dollguy is challenging a few worldviews in her first post, which is pretty amusing…

    And I’d love to read your interview! I just Emailed Forum magazine, enquiring about buying back issues, so I’ve yet to hear from them.

    Hopefully you realise that there are people who do support you out there. Sometimes you can’t have an army; you only get a select few. But sometimes, that’s all you need…

  9. SafeTinspector writes:

    Well, like you said (and I did too), if anthropobots adopted a set of easily recognizable movement sets that aren’t obvious weak mockery (for now) of normal organic human behaviours, it would be a no-brainer. Like my ability to read the body language of a cat or my wife’s ability to read the body language of a dog. It isn’t creepy, because it isn’t acting almost-but-not-quite human.

    Yes, humans can get over it, can be taught to surpass their animal reaction to something that is acting a bit off. But you and I not withstanding, you need to come up with a good case as to WHY they should do so. The average person will only work to achieve something so long as there is a clear payoff. The jackoff that answers the phone survey and says that God created the universe about 5000 years ago out of playdough won’t see the point until he’s able to buy one to do his housework for him.

    Interesting note: As I said, cute is easier to get. Like a toddler or child. The adult human is conditioned to recognize their movements as being inexperienced and endearing as opposed to creepy and broken. On the aforementioned Colbert report they showed a Japanese robot which is small and moves like a child.

    What struck me most was that it completely leaped over the “uncanny valley”. I had to look twice to be sure that it wasn’t a four year old in a robot costume. It didn’t have a realistic face, but it moved its limbs very convincingly.

  10. PBShelley writes:

    Hm, Wanda, I’m not sure I know what you’re getting at. When Erin first posted in TDF I assumed she was just another troll and didn’t even read the thread beyond the first couple of posts; in fact it was the last time I visited there in a while. Even after posting at the end of that thread (if that’s the one I posted in) I had no idea that you were in a firestorm or any other drama there; when you informed me that you were done with TDF I didn’t even know the reason why. So what do you mean that I “knew about the article”? Did I say I didn’t?

    And yes, I clicked on the picture because I was curious. Are you talking about the Focus mag pic? I can’t remember; I usually go in and out very quickly. Since you’re measuring and tracking everything you can see that I probably didn’t spend a whole lot of time on it. And frankly, being tracked like that kind of creeps me out, and makes me uncomfortable, as you might remember 😉

    I didn’t think of any comment I could make that would have been interesting anyway, or I would have 😛 (I went through a long period where I wasn’t posting anywhere.)
    Anyway, I do hope you are well, and happy 🙂

  11. Wanda writes:

    Hi, DC, you’re talking sense, but I’m not really in the mood to hear it right now, lol.
    O’Brien annoyed me–the passive aggressive type, nice to your face, cut you dead behind your back.
    When it comes to men she is a total attention whore and doesn’t want any other women in the vicinity. I just went back to that thread and wasn’t surprised to see her write about Meghan’s old article: “Wow. Doll owners got smoked in there. I’m sorry that happened to you guys. I really am. It is unprofessional and unfair. Meghan Laslocky gets none of my respect.”
    But when Meghan visited O’Brien’s blog and offered some support to her, O’Brien was all sweet, even going to her blog to make nice. Errgh…
    Oh, well, what-everrrrr!

    Um, PBS, you should know that whenever you are on-line the world knows it. Do you think DaveCat isn’t aware that you’ve dropped by when he checks his stats? Do you believe the mods at TDF don’t know when you visit? Why should that bother you? People are usually happy to have a friend stop by.

  12. dave writes:

    Man, I wish I had Mr. Davecat’s courage! Good
    for him on such a miserable earth!

  13. Davecat writes:

    dave —
    Well, I do what I can with what little I have! Thanks!
    And the Earth’s not that miserable! There’s always Synthetiks! 😉

Leave a charming reply