MIT Researcher Wants to Cure Robots' Social Awkwardness
How do you know when to start talking to someone? How do you know when to stop talking to someone? How do you know if someone's joking? These are questions that socially anxious people ask themselves every day, and now MIT researcher Cynthia Breazeal aims to program the answers into robots in order to help them interact with humans.
Breazeal is one of the pioneers of "social robotics," a field of research which aims to give robots social graces. In her talk at SXSW last week, seen in the video above, she posits that robots have been trusted with such extraordinary tasks like performing research on Mars, but not with the comparatively simple task of assisting people in their homes, because they don't have enough social acumen.
"People's behaviors are not just governed by the laws of physics... They're governed by having a mind, by having thoughts, intents, beliefs, emotions... Robots [in the home] would need to be socially intelligent, they would need to be emotionally intelligent so they could interact with us more richly, more fully, and more naturally."
She asserts that most research on artificial intelligence focuses on cognitive tasks, such as playing chess. As a result, the emotional component of intelligence has been neglected, and as a result, robots are much less adept at recognizing social cues than they should be. Social robotics "puts a different spin on artificial intelligence, where it's not just about the cognitive side but about the emotive, social side as well," said Breazeal.
Eventually, Breazeal aims to build robots that can "understand your goals, your intentions, and maybe even your feeling states." We're obviously not quite there yet, as that enters into singularity territory, but Brezeal did build Kismet in the late 1990's, which is widely known as "the first social robot," and more recently, she developed Jibo, a family-friendly and adorable robot designed to interact with people at home.
Jibo is not only advanced, but is more humanized than most robots. Jibo's appearance is clearly meant to endear the robot to the owner, and, as you can see in the video below, its movements and limited ability to grasp humor are designed to evoke the nebulous, almost ineffable interpersonal interactions humans have with each other.