TongTong, the childless robot child for China: mental maturity of 3-4 years


By John

TongTong is the “baby” robot designed for childless and aging China, created by artificial intelligence. With red shoes, pink trousers and a white t-shirt, she was developed by the Beijing Institute for General Artificial Intelligence (BigaI) and has the “mental and value system of a 3 or 4 year old girl”, with the possibility of growing up to do own lessons from experience.

He will make his debut in a few days at the Zhongguancun Forum in Beijing (25-29 April), the most important annual Chinese event dedicated to new technologies, but the first previews circulating in the local media are surprising: with his headband, TongTong ( which means 'little girl') can interact with her parents, understand their intentions and participate in chores such as cleaning the kitchen or the floors. The Global Times, the English-language tabloid of the People's Daily, gave an accurate description after previewing it. TongTong is driven by two primary cognitive systems: the U (capacity) and the V (value) systems.

The mechanism allows her to tackle her tasks in a unique pattern depending on her mood state described in five forms: hunger, boredom, thirst, tiredness and drowsiness.

«His mental and value system today is comparable to that of a 3-4 year old child. However, as it develops and repeats different operations, it will be more lively and real, like us humans. You will notice if you return at the end of this year or next to experience it again,” Zhu Song-Chun, director of Bigal, told the Global Times. Once the basic framework is defined, TongTong's learning ability will be accelerated with greater stress in two or three years, enough to grow from 3-4 years up to 18, Zhu further noted.

The goal of Bigai is to empower TongTong to complete challenging tasks such as helping humans in customized scenarios, such as nursing homes. The tabloid's description focuses on welfare applications, as if to define an answer for a society like China's, where the population has been contracting since 2022 due to the collapse in births, while the issue of aging is growing explosively with increasing burdens for welfare and social security spending.

TongTong's qualities, which must also be verified from an ethical perspective, seem to provide a technological shortcut to the problem.