I, Kitty

Isaac Asimov in his classic Science Fiction story, I, Robot, created the 3 rules of robotics, the most important being: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Luckily, this was not a major consideration, when I recently had the pleasure of meeting Japan’s most famous celebrity – in robot form! Yes, meet ROBO-Kitty, programmed for 21st century cuteness.

Co-developed by Business Design Laboratory and NEC System Technologies, “Hello Kitty ROBO,” to use her official name, has advanced voice recognition and voice synthesizer features, enabling her to talk, using 20,000 pre-programmed conversation patterns. She can recognize words and questions, and respond appropriately. In addition, as the robot accumulates conversation history with partners and becomes more intimate, it changes speech patterns and shows a wider variation in conversation. Also, with an onboard CCD camera and an advanced face authentication feature, she is able to register and recognize the faces of up to 10 people, and call their names as well as talk to them while looking at their faces. This gives ROBO-Kitty the ability to at least simulate artificial intelligence in at least 90% of social situations.

Unlike, the Terminator, or other advanced assassination droids from the movies, ROBO-Kitty has a lot less sheer killing power. While she can nod and shake her immense, largely hollow, plastic head and move her arms a little to show emotion, her legs are immobile, being used instead to house speakers. So, even if she turned nasty, like robots inevitably do in SF stories, the chances are you could still outrun her. Kitty, however, is programmed to never act out of character, as Aiko Miyama, a representative of the company that created ROBO-Kitty informs us.
"We are licensed by the Sanrio Company," she says, "so we are not allowed to change her official character. Kitty is always supposed to be pretty, pure, good, and have good manners. She never says anything upsetting."
I decided to put her good nature to the test by running the first ever real interview with a robot in the history of Mankind. As this was also the first time Kitty Chan herself had been interviewed, this was a doubly historic moment. Here, word for word, full and unexpurgated, is the complete interview.

CBL: Hello Kitty.

HK: What you just said are words Kitty doesn’t know…Today is a relaxing day. Please speak in a big voice.

CBL: Hello Kitty… Hi.

HK: Goodbye!

CBL: You’re a terribly rude cat.

HK: Kitty can’t hear well. Speak up, please.

CBL: What day is today?

HK: It’s fun. Kitty likes having fun. It’s fun to play with one’s friends. When do you feel happy? …Oh isn’t it.

CBL: Please listen.

HK: It’s nice that you can feel happy everyday, isn’t it?

CBL: Yes, when I’m happy I sing. Can you sing for me?

HK: Kitty can’t catch your words. Please speak up.

CBL: Please sing a song.

HK: Let’s speak up just a little louder.

CBL: Please sing a song.

HK: A song, eh? Which do you want to hear, a spring song, a Japanese song, a foreign song, a dance song, a hit song?

CBL: A foreign song.

HK: This is “Yama no Ongakuka” [sings a traditional German song in Japanese] Shall Kitty sing another song?

CBL: Yes please.

HK: Let me see, Kitty will choose it, OK? [sings a Japanese pop song]

CBL: That was very good.

HK: Did you hear Kitty’s song?

CBL: That was enjoyable. Thank you.

HK: Kitty doesn’t understand. Your voice is so loud that it’s difficult to hear.

CBL: I said thanks for the song.

HK: Please use words that Kitty can understand.

CBL: Kitty, may I ask a question.

HK: Yes … the end.

CBL: Kitty.

HK: Please speak up a little.

CBL: Good morning. Good morning. Good morning.

HK: Hello. Now it’s the afternoon, so you should say hello.

CBL: What is Kitty’s favorite food?

HK: Kitty loves apple pie made by Mama. Do you like apple pie? Oh you like apple pie, don’t you?

CBL: Where is Mimi Chan [Kitty’s sister]?

HK: The subjects Kitty is good at are English and music.

CBL: Where is Mimi Chan?

HK: Do you like music?

CBL: Yes, I love it.

HK: Goody, that’s like Kitty. Kitty is very happy.

CBL: I’m also very happy.

HK: What?

CBL: I’m also very happy. Kitty, do you like chocolate?

HK: Kitty’s so happy to stay with you…Do you like carrots?

CBL: So-so.

HK: Mmmm. Next time, please eat Mother’s homemade carrot glace. It’s very delicious.

CBL: What is your dream?

HK: Kitty’s dream is traveling around the World making many friends. Kitty has many dreams. My Father told Kitty it’s important to have dreams. Please have dreams.

CBL: My dream is to live in London [Kitty’s hometown according to her official biography].

HK: Kitty doesn’t understand.

CBL: You stupid cat!

HK: Please speak a little quieter... We’ll talk later.

CBL: London.

HK: London has got so many beautiful parks. There are many people exercising in them in the morning. Do you jog?

CBL: Sometimes.

HK: Mmmm. Is that so? London Town is very beautiful. It would be very nice if we can go there together sometime.

CBL: Kitty, bye-bye.

HK: What happened? Are you OK?

CBL: Have a rest.

HK: Kitty loves having a rest.

Despite a few misunderstandings, absurd non-sequiturs, and hearing malfunctions, Kitty acquitted herself well. She may not be Voltaire or Dr. Johnson just yet, but already she can converse at a more sparkling level than most bar-room conversations. No doubt, in a few years’ time, she’ll be able to make a lot more sense than the average politician or college professor. We have seen the future and she is cute.

Hello Kitty ROBO is available for 450,000 yen from Business Design Laboratory Co. Ltd.

Januar, 2007
Kansai Time Out
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