The Human Robot explores the boundary between biological and mechanical intelligence through interviews with sociologists, roboticists, ethicists, and philosophers. Asking "how human is too human?" in regards to robot design, the film focuses primarily on Japanese culture and their positive attitude towards technology in contrast to Western culture's tendency towards fearing intelligent machines.
The filmmakers showcase a wide variety of intelligent robot designs, from the flashy and entertaining automatons of Tokyo's Robot Restaurant and the dog-like Aibo robotic pet, to the hyper-real Geminoid designs that mimic their human counterparts with great accuracy. Androids are shown to already be quite prevalent in Japanese society where they hold positions as receptionists, retail sales clerks, and even news bulletin reporters.
Robot sociologist Naho Kitano explains that the Japanese view technology as a tool for improving life, whereas Westerners tend to view robotics through a lens that is often colored by religion. While the Japanese are less inclined to view robot science as interfering with nature or God, they still assign a level of sentiment to their creations. We learn that Aibo pet robots are given "souls" and when their bodies fail to work properly it is common for a soul removal ceremony, complete with chanting and drums, to take place before any usable parts are repurposed.
Several other experts in artificial intelligence weigh in on the potential for robots to aid in homes, hospitals, museums and transit hubs, as well as early learning classrooms where children can utilize childlike robots to develop both motor and social skills. Hiroshi Ishiguro, the man who created Geminoid "twins" in the likeness of himself and fellow researchers, shows off a model that encourages observers to touch her, reassures them not to fear her, and even asks what it feels like for them to touch her. Although her movements are stiff and her skin noticeably rubber, her inquisitive nature and seeming self-awareness (she self-identifies as a "female android") make it easy to see how social bonds can be established between humans and their robot companions.
Both visually and intellectually stimulating, The Human Robot offers a promising outlook for future artificial intelligence by examining the ethical and philosophical implications of intelligent machines.