Remember Jia Jia? Sure you do – she’s the one with the glassy eyes and the stern face, who keeps popping up on your social media feeds. No, this is not your ex-girlfriend from hell. This is China’s latest innovation in artificial intelligence, and has been hailed as the first interactive robot.
We blogged on these pages not long ago about China’s technological advances – from FAST, the world’s largest radio telescope, to Solar Valley, where 95% of the new buildings in Dezhou City are powered by renewables.
I knew it would only be a matter of time before we would once again be talking tech.
So back to Jia Jia. Jia Jia is a humanoid robot who can talk – she refers to her creators as ‘Lord’ – can make different facial expressions and moves her arms. She was developed over a mere 3 year period by a team at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, who plan to expand her emotional repertoire to laughing and crying. Right now, in our humble opinion, she looks like she’s had way too much botox and needs a sense of humour transplant, but that’s exactly where her creators intend to go next – giving robots learning abilities and facial recognition so that their interactions with us mere mortals can become more natural.
But why exactly does Jia Jia exist and should we be worried?
Firstly, forget the end-of the-world films you’ve seen where robots seek to dominate the human race and take over the world. Sure there are serious ethical dilemmas to be considered – one expert believes that we could be marrying robots by 2050 – but behind the scenes and in less glamorous areas of life than our love-life, we already rely on robots and that will only increase, especially in China.
Last year, China unveiled a national 10 year plan, known as ‘Made in China 2025’ focusing on making its manufacturing industry the best in the world. Robotics is one of 10 industries specifically mentioned in the plan.
That’s because, although China is already the world’s largest market for robotics, the robots are predominantly used in the automotive industry only. The city of Wuhu for example is tipped to become the first to truly embrace driverless cars.
But other areas of industry are yet to catch up and that’s when the big boost in robotics will come – when robots are used in everything from creating home appliances to pharmaceuticals. One newspaper recently reported how in one factory, 9 robotics now do the job of 140 fulltime workers with the company reportedly seeking more ways to replace humans with robots.
These robots, with their more mundane appearances and jobs won’t hit the headlines in the same way as Jia Jia. And I doubt Jia Jia with her good looks and language skills will be joining them in operating a production line anytime soon. As David Bisset, former head of Dyson explains, the primary role of humanoid robots like Jia Jia is to make us pay attention and be amused
Nevertheless I continue to be fascinated by China’s development in robots with artificial intelligence and here’s my favourite example – Beijing’s Robot Monk.
Standing at 2 foot tall and called Xian’er, this robot was developed by monks at Beijing’s 500 year old Longquan Buddist Temple to answer questions about Buddhism and the meaning of life for a 21st century audience.
But does Xian’er or Jia Jia know how to clean my house or make me the perfect cup of Chinese tea? Apparently the computer says no.