There are horror stories and films about mannequins in store windows that come alive supernaturally. Of course these aren’t true, but what if you accidentally waved at a mannequin and it waved right back? Man, that would be just too creepy. If you happen to be in Tokyo this time of the year, however, you might just witness this happening in the store window of the Takashimaya mall in Shinjuku. No, it’s not a ghost-mannequin on display, but the Geminoid-F, an android capable of displaying human expressions and actions.
The android sits casually in the window, as though waiting for a friend. Basic emotions and behavior have been programmed into it, which is the basis of all its expressions in response to whatever is happening around it. So you will be able to see it twitch its eyebrows, smile, frown and occasionally even wave at passersby. Not like a robot though, but like a real human being.
The Geminoid-F is a creation of Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at the Osaka University. His work largely involves not just the development of androids, but also the study of how they interact with and are perceived by human beings. Prior to the store-window project, the professor created an android theatre, where human actors and androids performed together. By placing them in store windows, he now wants to study how large groups of the general public react to the expressions of androids. According to professor Ishiguro, mannequins don’t really look like real people and hence aren’t the ideal choice for a show window. Actual fashion models would be better, but of course, they couldn’t possibly sit around all day in a window. So the next best choice would be to use androids that look like humans.
The professor also warns that just like a real person waiting for a friend, the Geminoid-F will ignore you if you continue to pester it. “Treat the android as if it’s a natural person sitting there in the usual way. If you react as you normally would to a sitting person, the android will react,” he says. I watched the video of the android in the window, and I must say, I found it really freaky. I mean, I know it’s just a machine in there, but I can’t help thinking it’s going to start speaking its mind any moment now!