The not so small wonder: Chinese human-like robot turns on the charm | world-news | Hindustan Times
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The not so small wonder: Chinese human-like robot turns on the charm

Billed as China’s first human-like robot, Jia Jia was first trotted out last year by a team of engineers at the University of Science and Technology of China.

world Updated: Jan 09, 2017 20:14 IST
Humanoid robot Jia Jia, created by a team of engineers from the University of Science and Technology of China, in Shanghai on Monday.
Humanoid robot Jia Jia, created by a team of engineers from the University of Science and Technology of China, in Shanghai on Monday.(AFP photo)

Jia Jia can hold a simple conversation and make specific facial expressions when asked, and her creator believes the eerily life-like robot heralds a future of cyborg labour in China.

Billed as China’s first human-like robot, Jia Jia was first trotted out last year by a team of engineers at the University of Science and Technology of China.

Team leader Chen Xiaoping sounded like a proud father as he and his prototype appeared on Monday at an economic conference organised by banking giant UBS in Shanghai’s futuristic financial centre.

Chen predicted that perhaps within a decade artificially intelligent (AI) robots like Jia Jia will begin performing a range of menial tasks in Chinese restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals and households. “In five to ten years there will be a lot of applications for robots in China,” Chen said.

With flowing black hair and dressed in a traditional Chinese dress, Jia Jia looks strikingly real. Yet her charm has its limits and simple questions frequently stump her.

Humanoid robot Jia Jia in Shanghai on Monday. (AFP photo)

Still, Chen said his team had made great progress over the past two years in developing her AI.

She was able to answer a query about the day’s weather, hold basic conversations and recognise the gender of her questioners.

“You are a handsome man,” she complimented one, but when asked later if she has a boyfriend, replied, “I prefer to stay single.”

Rapid advancements are being made in artificial intelligence and such products stole the limelight at last week’s consumer electronics show in Las Vegas.

A range of products were unveiled that can respond to voice commands, play music at home and follow other remote-control orders -- or even think on their feet by accessing and learning from the Internet cloud.

One company, Hanson Robotics, unveiled its life-like Professor Einstein, which has realistic facial expressions and can engage in informative conversations such as lessons in math and science.

Albert Einstein robot from Hanson Robotics on display at the 2017 Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. (AFP file photo)

Jia Jia is not quite there yet, but Chen sees a bright future for her kind in China.

He said growing prosperity was causing many young Chinese to eschew jobs like waitressing, while an ageing population will require more hands on deck in hospitals and nursing homes -- even if they are not human hands.

Chen showed a video of a less life-like, but more functional, robot making and serving tea to team members at his university lab in the eastern province of Anhui.

Chen, however, dismissed sci-fi fears of future robots getting too smart for our own good.

“As long as this is done in a step-by-step and controlled manner, I don’t think there will be a big impact on society. It won’t harm human beings,” he said.