A new GEICO commercial, purportedly featuring journeyman musician Eddie Money, is a showcase of the exciting research being conducted in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence, but underscores the enormous technical challenges that must be overcome before truly lifelike automatons can be created and become seamlessly integrated into human society.
“The MoneyBot featured in the commercial is groundbreaking in many ways”, explained Dr. Jorge Martinez, Associate Research Professor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and ‘father’ of the MoneyBot. “It has a state of the art motion control system. Its kinematic model allows the device to stand upright, retain its balance in the absence of external transient forces, and perform macro-movements of the extremities that appear reasonably humanoid.
“The grippers mounted at the end of the upper extremities allow about as much articulation as a typical industrial robot and tooling, so the device is shown holding the ‘tickets to paradise’, rather than struggling to pick them up from a desk or some other planar surface”, Martinez continued.
“The technical limitations of the MoneyBot, indeed with all human simulacra that I’ve seen, lie in its interactive capabilities, which I’m sure viewers notice as well. In the commercial, there is a noticeable time lag before the MoneyBot responds to the speech input it receives from the actors. It is simply a matter of processing power.
“Because the MoneyBot is autonomous (except for its power supply), and the natural language processing algorithm it uses is computationally ‘expensive’, it simply takes a moment to parse the input and formulate a plausible response. What is remarkable is that MoneyBot IS processing that data real-time, in accordance with the scenario that was programmed into its task processor.
“Similarly, the precise motor control of the facial features, essentially what would make it appear more life-like, are constrained by both control system and actuator limitations”, Martinez admitted. “The human face, especially those of charismatic performers, are remarkably dynamic, and the MoneyBot’s expressive capabilities are orders of magnitude slower than even the most torpid, reserved individuals.”
The voice synthesis technology employed in the commercial, through which the MoneyBot appears to “sing” portions of the song Two Tickets To Paradise, is actually far more advanced than the capabilities of Eddie Money himself. As Martinez related, “It’s a funny story. When we ran the vocal track through the spectrum analyzer, it was actually so far off key and distorted that we had to write a special ‘Eddie Money’ filter to reduce the quality of our default speech output.”