Employing a broad-ranging approach to explore the dividing line between human and non-human

I can’t imagine any research that is not interdisciplinary. Research is always about tackling unknown challenges.

Ishiguro, Hiroshi

Graduate School of Engineering Science
Intelligent Robotics Group

Ishiguro, Hiroshi

Professor Ishiguro says that his robotics research explores the space between that which is human and that which is not. If titles, linguistic abilities, physical capabilities and other elements of human status are eliminated, what is there left that we can call human? That is the question that Professor Ishiguro seeks to answer.

Research is all about confronting the deepest of misgivings

Sometimes, children worry whether or not they are really human. I certainly did. Actually, in my case, I still have the same doubts today. It is not something that becomes clear once you grow up. Most adults certainly seem to understand themselves as human, but they only think that they understand. What exactly is a human mind? What is volition? These are the kinds of questions I ask myself in the course of my research.

I believe that research is about tackling “unnamed” things that lie between the known and unknown realms. If you really want to understand something properly, you need to confront the most basic of doubts. You need to try something new. You must never be satisfied with something that is just “good enough.”

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Advances are already being made in interdisciplinary research

In the course of researching robots, I became interested in the way that humans pay attention to their facial expressions and gestures when they are looking at other humans. So I asked some experts for advice about gestures, facial expressions and eye movement. When you are genuinely engaged with your research topic, you have many uncertainties. You realize how much you don’t know. So I try to enlist the help of others. People who assist me in my research include experts in medicine, neural science, and cognitive science, as well as theater directors and linguists. My lab has a branch in the Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences, but I also have many other interdisciplinary research connections with many other areas.

“Enhancement” always produces outcomes, but “research” is a gamble

photo_ishiguro02Research is a gamble. You never know whether or not you’ll get an answer to the question you have asked. Enhancement, on the other hand, can be expected to yield an outcome in 100% of cases—as long as you make an effort. In research, though, you are exploring new territory, and the success rate is closer to 30% at best.

Naturally you need to apply yourself fully to your research, but you also need to be tough. I don’t think that every single student in my lab should become a researcher. But I do hope that they will also become first-class professionals, whatever field they end up in.