INCREASINGLY human-like robots have begun sparking fascination and fear.

Sporting a trendy brown bob, humanoid robot named Erica chats to a man in front of stunned audience members in Madrid.

She and others like her are a prime focus of robotic research as their uncanny human form could be key to integrating such machines into our lives, said  researchers gathered  this week at the the annual International Conference on Intelligent Robots.

''You mentioned project management. Can you please tell me more?''

Erica, who is playing the role of  an employer, asks the man. She may not understand the conversation, but she's been trained to detect key words and respond to them.

A source of controversy due in part to fears for human employment, the presence of robots in our daily lives is nevertheless inevitable, engineers at the conference said.

The trick to making them more palatable, they added, is to make them look and act more human so that we accept them into our lives more easily.

Erica the robot has been trained to detect key words and respond to them.

In aging societies ''robots will coexist with humans sooner or later,'' said Hiroko Kamide, a Japanese psychologist who specialises in relations between humans and robots.

Welcoming robots into households or workplaces involves developing ''multipurpose machines that are capable of interacting'' with humans without being dangerous, said Philippe Soueres, head of the robotics department at a laboratory belonging to France's  CNRS  scientific institute. [AFP]


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