Futurama showed us a world with space travel, robot sidekicks, and Al Gore riding the Mighty Moon Worm, but what really made hearts beat faster were the downloadable Lucy Liu robots. How close are we to robot lovin'?
There are probably a few sites on the internet that cater to people who want to make out with toasters - pictures, safety tips, ads for bulk-rate burn creams – but most people want a more lifelike robot. How is it possible to make a robot that transforms into anyone the end-user wants? There are two possibilities.
Researchers at Carnegie Melon University have already come up with robots that can use electromagnets to cling to each other in different configurations. Sure they're not up to morphing into blemish-less skin and pearly white teeth, but give them a millennium.
The other leading candidate is good old-fashioned stem cells. Believe it or not, they won't be as controversial in the future. It already looks like adult cells can be made to act like stem cells, under the right conditions. Since stem cells have the potential to turn into any cell at all, it might be possible to slather a bunch of modified celebrity skin cells on a pre-programed robot frame and leave that frame in a giant petri-dish until it looks Liu-ish.
IBM has already created an artificial intelligence as smart as a cat. From cat intelligence to human intelligence would be a huge step, but not insurmountable. But I don't think that celebrities like Lucy Liu will be the ones to have their personalities duplicated. It's much more likely that people will choose characters that Liu has portrayed, and have those personalities imprinted on the robots. Given the intelligence level of characters in most movies, we might not have to wait a millennium for this to be possible.
When the bot-bodies come online, though, real life will undoubtedly be like walking through Wonder-Con. A stroll down any busy street will allow you to see Robert Pattinson's Edward, Kristin Bell's Veronica Mars, every single one of Johnny Depp's characters. (Watch out for Sweeney Todd.)
But what would any one of those characters want with some loser who downloaded them off the internet?
They could be programmed to want anything their downloader did. And they'd want it the moment that their downloader thought about it. Scientists are already developing a chip that would allow paraplegics to turn on electrical devices by thinking about them. It wouldn't be that hard to get people to be able to turn on a robot by just thinking about it. In fact, the robot might be a more intuitive companion than a real human. It would know which section of a person's brain is activated at any one time, and have behaviors that catered to that section.
So how can you be sure you've got a genuine Lucy Liu bot, and not some cheap knockoff? When a celebrity agrees to hand over their likeness, their genetic code, and their mannerisms to a company, they are taking a big risk. Not only are they dipping their toes in very murky moral waters, they might very well be creating robots that can fill their signature roles better than they can. Imagine their annoyance at seeing their personalities being sold on scuffed-up disks on street corners, or available online for twenty dollars.
That's where quantum cryptography comes in. Because any effort to measure quantum states interferes with the state being measured, it is possible that quantum cryptography is, and will always be, unbreakable. This ensures that the driving force behind all morally ambiguous enterprises – profit – will be allowed to run freely and effectively.
We may only have to wait twenty years.