World Robot Conference 2023 is Both Awesome and Terrifying

The future is now — whether we like it or not

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5:25 PM HKT, Tue August 22, 2023 1 mins read

Each year, the World Robot Conference gathers in Beijing to examine the most exciting and innovative developments in the world of robotics. And while new heights of technology may seem like a given at this sort of event, some of this year’s offerings are almost-worryingly impressive.

It feels like just a few years ago that the world’s most advanced robots were, in a word, disappointing. Watching Honda’s ASIMO, year after year, accomplish such daring feats as walking – or even, walking slightly faster – left audiences wondering if the super-advanced robots of science fiction would ever come to fruition.

Well now, developers are getting close…and the result is a little scary.

Videos filtering onto Instagram-like app Xiaohongshu show hyper-realistic robots on display, some of which are easy to confuse with real human presenters.

Left: a male robot presenter, and a futuristic, overly-sexualized female robot; Right: robotic arms perform delicate demonstrations on a flower

Some are dressed in snazzy suits fit for television hosts, while others are decked out as aliens or figures from ancient Chinese literature. Still others are wearing white work shirts and casual black slacks – at first glance one could mistake them for members of a development team.

“Today I saw a hyper-realistic humanoid robot, a color-changing robot dog from Xiaomi, a robot bird and a robot butterfly,” wrote one stupefied user after the event. “There was a massage robot arm, a car-making robot arm, and plenty of other robotic arms.”

“It really broadened my horizons,” they wrote.

Another user posted a similar take.

“I feel that in the next ten years, many industries — express delivery, factories, hotel front desks, room service, aunts, storage, blood tests, laboratory tests, and even some surgical operations — will be completely replaced by robots,” she wrote, adding that the event “strengthened her desire to learn about AI.”

Xiaomi’s robotic dog performs tricks for young onlookers

Commenters, meanwhile, were having a ball.

“Why are all robots still bald?” questioned one.

“I thought the same thing,” agreed another commenter. “Why not make a beautiful woman, or a super hot guy or something?”

Some commenters compared the progress of Chinese robotics teams with their counterparts in Japan and the United States. Others saw the event as a great place to take children; on the latter point though, not everyone was in agreement.

“If my baby sees this, he will cry,” wrote one user.

Images via Xiaohongshu

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