The new trailer for Alien: Covenant, shows how the company in the universe builds the robot played by Michael Fassbender. As it ends, a tiny disclaimer runs along the bottom of the screen.
The fine print goes like this: “Matchmaking interview and DNA screening required. Customers with genetic abnormalities may not meet requirements for safety certification. No refunds after consciousness imprint. Default payments will forfeit DNA rights in perpetuity.”
It’s an interesting bit of world-building for the Alien franchise, but if we buy into it a little bit, it suggests some interesting things about humanoid robots in our world as well. The disclaimer builds a vision of the future of high-end robotics that could look very much like our actual future. And a number of the technologies that make up Walter are built in a similar way to processes that are used in robotics today.
Starting with the blue lighting that gives the commercial the feeling of a Mercedes-Benz ad, Walter is definitely not something that most people own. Anything hyper-customized is going to be expensive, and you get the sense that a matchmaking interview and a process that screens out “genetic abnormalities” is something that very few people are going to be able to actually clear in order to even reserve a Walter. In the real world, this is sort of similar to the people who can afford to have butlers or personal assistants. In our robotics future, that role could be played by a highly personalized Fassbender robot.
Building a robot like that is likely to be pretty similar to what we see. Researchers have started working on musculoskeletal robots, and growing tissue on some sort of 3D printed skeleton is a pretty reasonable way to do that. And there’s tech being built to give robots the same range of physical sensation as people.
In the commercial, a chip is implanted into Walter’s forehead, which would likely be the personalized AI. An artificial intelligence that can mimic consciousness could be built on code that modifies itself to a certain point, similar to human learning. It’s not possible yet, but the theory is there.
Fassbender robot takes it to a deeper level, where the AI is designed to suit the personality of a specific person. But in this classist, fancy robot society, there’s definitely the money to build yourself the ideal companion.