Warning Will Robinson! Robotic girlfriends hit the market

Artificial intelligence should enable robot to speak, carry on conversations

The world's first robotic girlfriend has hit the market.

We've been hearing a lot about robotic arms on the space shuttle, as well as robotic snakes and robotic birds and bugs . But now we're hearing about a robot worthy of being considered a companion.

A New Jersey-based company, TrueCompanion.com, has unveiled its talking robotic girlfriend . This is no life-size doll. Roxxxy the robot is designed with artificial intelligence and life-like synthetic skin. At 5 feet, 7 inches tall, the robot can't walk or move its arms and legs, but it is designed to not only talk but carry on a conversation.

The robot, partially designed by Douglas Hines, a former engineer for Bell Labs, also is designed to have sex.

And while that may catch some people by surprise, a British researcher predicted two years ago that people would one day have robotic companions that they could fall in love with and marry. David Levy, a British artificial intelligence researcher who wrote the book, Love and Sex with Robots , said people will be marrying robots by 2050. He also said late in 2007 that people would be having sexual relations with robots within five years.

So far, it looks like Levy's predictions are on track.

TrueCompanion.com didn't offer information on how complex a conversation Roxxxy can carry on. The company noted that the robot can remember the owner's name and "express her love to you and be your loving friend. She can talk to you, listen to you and feel your touch."

Levy had said in a previous interview that getting robots past walking with jerky movements will be the easier part of building artificial companions. The diffucult part, he noted, will be creating an artificial intelligence system good enough to mimic a flowing, sophisticated conversation.

"There are already people who are producing fairly crude personalities and fairly crude models of human emotions now," Levy said in 2007. "This will be among the harder parts of this process... Human/computer conversation has attracted a lot of research attention since the 1950s, and it hasn't made as much progress as you'd expect in 50 years. But computers are so much more powerful now and memory is so much better... so we'll see software that can have interesting, intelligent conversations."

Levy also estimated that robots will be able to have interesting conversations -- not yet at the level of a college graduate but enjoyable -- within 15 years. In 20 or 30 years, however, he expects them to carry on sophisticated conversations.

The company, which has worked on Roxxxy for the past two decades, said on its Web site that engineers are working on a male robotic companion called Rocky.

TrueCompanion.com hasn't responded to questions about how much the robots cost.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld . Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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