Simon doesn’t like to be ignored, in the robot sense. It frustrates him. He has been programmed to seek attention, a skill that researchers at Georgia Tech say is vital to integrating robots into our lives.
Adrea Thomaz, assistant professor at Georgia Tech explains:
“Robots don’t generally so this. They would say ‘Hello, let me tell you about my product over here’ and they would just keep on going and so that is what we are trying to solve with this catching your attention project. So the robot could get a measure of contingency to tell that this person is responding to me. So now we are entering into a turn taking engagement.”
Thomaz says Simon is being taught the art of conversation. Not only can he seek attention, his computer vision tells him when he has it. The researchers have programmed him to compare the video images registered before and after his appeals for attention. If the images are significantly different, Simon knows he’s succeeded.
Thomaz says that giving a robot the ability to converse with a human has several real world applications – search and rescue could be one of them.
“The robot itself is out in a dangerous environment searching for victims or people that need help and so there is the interaction between the robot and the person it might eventually find. And that is something where this work of contingent response is really relevant. So if that robot could make some signals into the world and say, ‘Hey can you hear me?’ and understand that there is somebody out there that responded contingently to it. That’s directly applicable.”
Thomaz says there is still work to be done before humans and robots can chat to one another. Apart from conversation, the robots need to be taught how to adapt to their environment – a skill humans take for granted. Thomaz believes it’s only a matter of time. Today, Simon can get your attention. But soon he may be able to tell you what’s on his mind.
Bottom line: Researchers at Georgia Tech University are teaching a robot the basics of dialogue. Named “Simon”, the robot has already been taught how to attract a person’s attention but eventually, it’s hoped he’ll be able to interact and converse with humans in daily life.