Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2012

Henrik Schärfe

Henrik Schärfe was a little-known professor at Denmark's Aalborg University until he began appearing on YouTube and at TED conferences with his doppelgänger, Geminoid-DK. The robot looks a lot like Schärfe, 44, so it's very cool — and pretty creepy. But that's Schärfe's point. He hopes the alter-Schärfe will make people uneasy enough that they'll think about the role of technology in their lives and the boundaries between humans and machines.

When we developed the Watson computer that competed on Jeopardy!, we thought hard about whether to anthropomorphize it. Ultimately, we gave it a voice and even a face of sorts. (This was TV, after all.) That decision elicited strong reactions from viewers, both good and bad. What I take away from that — and from Schärfe's robot — is an appreciation of how curious humans are about themselves and their inner workings. Give an object a face or a voice and we project our humanity upon it. But machines are not rivals or friends; they are tools. Contemplating them helps us learn more about ourselves and how best to shape our future.

Ferrucci, an IBM fellow, leads the team that created Watson