March 15th, 2024

CNN’s Decoded returns for second series

Premieres Saturday 16th March at 08:30 GST, 12.30 HKT on CNN International

In a new series of Decoded, CNN’s Anna Stewart explores the latest technology including brain-computer interface, quantum computing, generative AI and wearable tech.  The first episode focusses on humanoid robotics and discovers how they work, where they’re currently being used, and why so many people want to make machines look and act like us in the first place.

In Japan, Stewart meets Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, a robotics pioneer who has built over 60 humanoids in the past three decades. Ishiguro believes that the closer a humanoid looks to a human, or behaves like one, the easier it will be for people to accept them in day-to-day life. Success for him is creating a robot that gives a feeling of ‘sonzaikan’, a Japanese term which loosely translates as a ‘feeling of presence’. He says, “If we can give sonzaikan to that robot, probably we can accept that robot as partners or social members.”

Roboticists say the degree of realism impacts how likely we are to accept humanoids. The more humanlike a robot appears, the more positively people respond to them, but only up to a certain point – if robots look too much like us, we get creeped out. This theory is called ‘uncanny valley’. Professor Ishiguro believes his work has beaten the uncanny valley, “We have the several modalities to feel the human likeness: voice, appearance, and movement. All modality needs to be humanlike. So, think about the zombie. Zombie’s appearance is humanlike, but the movement is quite jerky. In such case we are going to feel the very strong, the eerie, the uncanny feeling. But our android, we are carefully designing.”

UK-based Engineered Arts unveiled the humanoid robot Ameca in 2021, with the newest model containing Open AI’s GPT 4. Large language models are revolutionising robotics making conversations seem more natural than ever before. Will Jackson, founder and CEO of Engineered Arts explains to CNN, “We’re actually doing really, really well on the AI side of things. We have fantastic object recognition, facial recognition, machine learning, deep learning. Large language models have just revolutionised things.”

As the technology advances, the race to commercialise humanoids is heating up. In Norway, Stewart interviews Bernt Børnich the CEO and founder of 1X, a robotics company backed by OpenAI. Børnich speaks about why robots are created to be so humanlike, “We are incredibly well designed. I would argue this is kind of like why we won evolution. It is our ability to do dexterous work on a very small footprint and we don’t know of any system that can do this better. Everything around us is already made for humans to be productive. And infrastructure changes incredibly slowly.” He continues, “Our mission is really to design androids that can help create labour in human spaces so that we all have time to enjoy life.”

At the Consumer Electronics Show, Stewart speaks to Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation. He describes the challenges robots face in home environments and the timescale on putting humanoids in homes, “It’s a difficult environment. There’s people, there’s children, there’s stairs, there’s a lot of unknowns. It’s not like a confined space like a factory where you know the environment that you’re in. Ultimately, will there be large numbers of humanoids in our lives? Possibly. Decades away. Maybe in factories, in warehouses, sooner than that. Maybe much sooner in the case of warehouses and factories, but in our lives on a daily basis? Over a decade, for sure.”

Humanoids are already impacting lives in various sectors, including in education. Sreejit Chakrabarty, Director of AI & Robotics at GEMS Dubai American Academy discusses what humanoids can add to a classroom setting, “We’re moving to a point where humanoids can actually track how well the students are reacting to that piece of content. Are they interested? Are they happy, are they sad, or are they even bored? And it could interrupt and pull out a piece of content that’ll make them engaged in that lesson again.”

Another real-world application is in nursing homes where robots are helping to ease workloads or entertain residents. Dr. Arshia Khan, Computer Science Professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, has programmed her humanoids to do more, including conducting several types of therapy aimed at combatting depression and dementia. Khan says her team is the first in the US to be deploying robots in this way, “Humanised robots are not better than humans. They are to fill the gaps when the human cannot be there. The robot can go and administer this therapy and repeatedly, not just once a day, multiple times a day.”

Decoded premieres Saturday 16th March at 08:30 GST, 12.30 HKT on CNN International and also airs at the following times:                                          

Saturday 16th March

00:30 ET and 21:00 ET

04:30 GMT


Sunday 17th March

01:00 GMT, 10:00 GMT and 17:30 GMT

05:00 GST, 14:00 GST, 21:30 GST

06:00 ET, 13:30 ET, 23:00 ET

09:00 HKT and 18:00 HKT


Monday 18th March

01:30 HKT and 11:00 HKT

03:00 GMT

07:00 GST

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