I said that as an undergraduate engineering student in 1975. Now a Japanese researcher has made real progress towards a synthetic companion. The artificial skin doesn't seem to have a high density sensory grid that other researchers are experimenting with (future artificial skins might incorporate sensors not only for pressure and temperature, but also for light, humidity, strain or sound), but I"m sure it won't be long before a similar android with tactile response and expression ability graduates from the lab.
I still want to be involved in bringing that girl... and a boy... and a whole range of socially acceptable companions to market. Some day soon...
Update: Sony’s Qrio, a humanoid robot under development is exactly along the lines I’ve been dreaming of!
Update: from PC Magazine, “Eleksen, a small UK-based firm is introducing electronic fabric, essentially carbon-embedded nylon sandwiched between layers of nylon mesh that, when a milliamps charge is passed through it, can recognize touch, pressure and even the direction and path of a stroke. This thin, flexible, and washable fabric connects to a small 8-bit processor, which then can be connected to a standard electronic device like an iPod. Eleksen company executives said the washable fabric can also withstand extreme pressure; they’ve rolled a car over it without any ill effects.” Seems we are moving towards artificial skin!
Update: from The Economist, Japan’s humanoid robots – Better than people:
“What seems to set Japan apart from other countries is that few Japanese are all that worried about the effects that hordes of robots might have on its citizens. Nobody seems prepared to ask awkward questions about how it might turn out. If this bold social experiment produces lots of isolated people, there will of course be an outlet for their loneliness: they can confide in their robot pets and partners. Only in Japan could this be thought less risky than having a compassionate Filipina drop by for a chat.”