Robotic head advances human-machine interaction

Posted by Lydia Leavitt

The subject of countless books and movies, humans have always been intrigued by robotic automation.

Whether it’s a soldier or a housekeeper robot, humans want a machine that can make their lives easier without the limitations that we incur - like becoming tired or bored.

Both a pro and a con when considering widespread robot adoption has been a robot’s lack of emotion.

Let’s take for example, a robot designed to replace human soldiers that could patrol 24/7 without taking breaks or even blinking.

Robotic soldiers could potentially revolutionize warfare, putting disposable machines on the front lines to save human lives that could feel no pain, have no mercy, and never suffer the after effects of warfare.

As you can see, the lack of emotion is certainly a pro in this case.

On the flip side, an emotionless robot does not have the same decision making ability that a human would in a combat situation.

Without emotion, a robot cannot judge a situation the same way a soldier would, which would be considered a downside.

One researcher, Peter Robinson of Cambridge University in England, is exploring the role of emotions in human-machine interactions to improve the way robots judge situations and to determine whether it’s possible to make a robot that can both feel and express intelligent emotion.

Robinson based his research on the assumption that there are multiple levels of human interaction, sprinkled with hidden emotional signs. It could be a wink or a smile, maybe a tone of voice or body gesture, whatever it is, there could be a hidden signal that could quite possible change the meaning of the interaction.

For example, the statement "I really like your shoes," could either be a completely truthful, envious, or sarcastic, completely changing the truth of the statement and influencing the response. 

Robinson’s idea to is build a robot that can understand the nuances of human interaction by analyzing faces, gestures, and speech to understand and process emotion. If successful, this could launch robot automation to the next level with wider spread adoption.

To test the technology he is building, Robinson is using an uber creepy robotic head, to which he talks (note: do not put that on your Match.com dating profile). Robinson says, "The way that Charles and I can communicate, shows us the future of how people will interact with machines."

Of course this raises some concerns mostly born out of science fiction movies that perhaps robots could take over the world and kill all the humans.

No, but seriously, the question is, can Robinson and his team create a robot that can truly understand the various nuances of human interaction not only on a human level but also a cultural level?

Although the odds are certainly stacked against him, it will be interesting to see whether Robinson can improve robotic technology so far as to create a robot that can understand various emotions and moods to react accordingly.

(Via ieee Spectrum)