Another job lost to robots

Ishiguro Robot Erica cast in sci-fi movie b.

Erica, a robot created by Japanese roboticists Hiroshi Ishiguro and Kohei Ogawa is going to be in a movie. The movie, b, is now in development and written by Special Effects Supervisor Eric Pham, actor Tarek Zohdy, and Sam Khoze, who is listed in IMDB as producer and robot enthusiast.

An early incarnation of Erica at Osaka University in 2015. (Source:

Erica is one in a long line of robots created by Hiroshi Ishiguro and his team at Osaka University. The team’s work is concentrated on HRI, human-robot interaction. Erica is a descendent of the Actroid robot introduced at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo in 2003. Among the many robots Ishiguro’s team has built, there is also Geminoid, a robot version of Ishiguro. Much of the work being done is addressing the issue of the Uncanny Valley articulated by Masahiro Mori in 1970. Ishiguro collaborated with Kohei Ogawa in the creation of Erica and they have been developing her acting skills through a process they’re comparing to method acting.

Masahiro Mori defined the Uncanny Valley. He has said that the closer something comes to being human makes it more attractive to humans until it gets too close, and then it becomes creepy. (Source: IEEE Spectrum)

This is the role of the lifetime for Erica since she really hasn’t had much of a life. The story goes that Ishiguro and Ogawa have trained Erica to act through Konstantin Stanislavsky’s acting techniques which have been packaged as method acting. The technique calls for actors to build their character from within with their own emotional responses. In an article in Popular Mechanics, Sam Khoze says they’re building Erica’s character through one-on-one sessions and paying attention to physical movements, body language. Khoze claims they’re talking through her feelings. Actually, Ishiguro and Ogawa are developing an AI database for Erica to draw on for her performance, which is part of the ongoing work at the Osaka labs.

This isn’t Erica’s first role. A stroll through the Internet turns up a commercial starring Erica in which she wonders why people are afraid of her. She’s not at all scary but she’s not endearing either. Years ago we ran into an early version of Erica at Siggraph Asia where she did a short performance for a delighted mob of conference attendees. At that time, we thought she and her friends were definitely creepy.

British GQ and Gucci collaborated with on video piece with Hiroshi Ishiguro, starring Erica, Geminoid, and Ishiguro.

The movie does not yet have a director. According to a story in The Hollywood Reporter, Tony Kaye (Detachment) was originally attached to a project starring Erica but he left the project because of scheduling. Bondit Capital Media has committed $70 to the production of b. At this stage, it seems the special effects team is in charge. Some scenes have been shot in Japan with Erica and shooting will continue in Europe in 2021 presumably when the team gets a director and a few other actors.

Replee Q2, an Ishiguro robot at Siggraph Asia in 2009. We’ve mostly seen the robots sitting or standing still. It’s still too difficult to enable them to move through space and the research in Osaka is primarily devoted to working with robots face to face.

What do we think?

In terms of cinematic artistry, the news so far is not promising, but on the plus side, I don’t think there’s much fear of Erica acting at all. In the GQ Gucci commercial, Erica does not interact, her thoughts are communicated through voice-over.

Ishiguro insists that his robots are not creepy. He says his work concentrates on interaction with the robots, with how they connect with people through their gaze and gestures but most of his robots’ performances are still very limited in their movements and their responses.

It might be more accurate to say humans are the subject of Ishiguro’s research. He’s trying to understand what it will take for people to engage with a robot in conversation. In order to find out more about how people will interact with humanoid robots, he’s got to build better, smarter robots.

He also seems to really enjoy show business.