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Sociable robots 13.11.2008

I went to a talk this evening by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal, who's the director of the Personal Robots Group at the MIT.

Her talk was centered around the sociable robots, and the research she is doing in that area. The talk was luckily devoid of much of the usual technical lingo you normally meet in talks like this, and instead it was interestingly full of all the social and psychological issues in making a robot learn how to perform tasks by watching others do it — through social learning. This, as Dr. Breazeal said, is very important if we want robots to be human, and sociable, because that's how we learn.

She showed a lot of video clips of her main project with the robot Leonardo, but also from Autom, Huggable and the mds robot, which are all reachable from the projects page of the Robots Lab at MIT.

The Q&A was good, run by a presenter from RTE (whose name escapes me), but there was the token robophobic questions about how far we are from the world of Blade Runner (which deals with genetics, and not with robotics), and what's going to stop the robots from turning against us, if we make them so clever. The answer? It's related to culture. We, in the western world, see robots as something we eventually will have to fight with. In Japan for example, robots are seen as colleagues, partners, friends, someone that you co-exist with, and which helps us do things better, and who understands us, on a human level.

That's pretty deep, and as the presenter said, he might end up marrying a robot some day, at least, if they get as good as Dr. Breazeal is working toward making them.

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Anders Saugstrup | web | @ / 1:36 / 13th of november / 2008

All good. As long as I donÂ’t have to exchange my very human wife with one of these guys. :-)

Except from that, I am not so sure about this cultural difference paradigm. If we look back in history just a little bit to the time during and pre ww2, I think we can agree on finding that the Japanese are or were exactly as aggressive as the most aggressive countries in Europe.

Jonas | web / 14:57 / 14th of november / 2008

I'm not saying anybody is less aggressive than others per se. But there's an inherent difference in perception, which is definitely culturally rooted, of how robots and gadgets are perceived. Just look at the difference in usage of mobile phones in the western world and Japan.

In the western world, we seem to be very focused on the "when will they take over our lives, and rule humanity?" question, while technology is embraced in a much more social and useful way in Japan.

papish / 20:15 / 28th of november / 2008

'Blade Runner' about genetics and not robotics?

Jonas | web / 15:38 / 29th of november / 2008

Yes. The replicants are genetically manufactured beings, not robots.

papish / 14:28 / 1st of december / 2008

[backstroking on] Biorobotics is robotics too. And in the book they're androids [backstroking off]

Jonas | web / 13:23 / 13th of december / 2008

Aye, there's the rub. I was refering to robotics as mainly the mechanical robotics.

And I know my answer is a bit late (:

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Bio is the personal website of me, Jonas Voss, and this is my blog. I've lived in Dublin, Ireland from 2005-10, currently live in London, and was born and fully customized in Copenhagen, Denmark. I write about anything that comes to mind. Really.
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