"I for one welcome our new computer overlords"
The parting words of Ken Jennings in last year’s Jeopardy match against Watson, a computer seemingly able to decipher and process language, are a milestone for robotic innovations. Advancements in neuroscience and robotics have focused on giving robots human-like intelligence and processing skills. This concept has been depicted numerous times in popular culture, many times in terms of robotic rebellion, for example in movies such as I, Robot or WALL-E.
Recent robotics research leaves us with a couple of questions. Are really focusing on the right aspects of advancing in robotic technologies? Instead of perfecting intelligence and processing, why not instead focus on perfecting human emotion?
Facial cues have proven extremely important for social interaction. In experiments where robots greeted humans and asked them to perform a task, the humans were more receptive when the robot glanced at the task to be performed, rather than robotically (pun intended) looking at the human subject while giving instructions. A similar experiment was set up in which human subjects were to learn about China. A map of China was present in the classroom. Those who had robot teachers who looked at the map while teaching actually learned more about the spatial relationships pertaining to the “lecture material” than those who had robot teachers who never looked at the map.
Another study examined the responsiveness of infants to robot facial cues.
An 18-month old infant was allowed to watch a robot interact with a human (the researcher). He would point tobody parts, and the robot would repeat the action. When the researcher left the room, the infant followed the robot’s gaze. In contrast, those infants who never saw the robot interact with a human were unresponsive to their gazes. Visual communications are key for learning social interactions.
Such robots have also been used in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) therapies. ASD patients have trouble with social interactions, so these social robots have been hypothesized to help in therapy. A bubble test, in which a companion to the patient blows bubbles, is used as it has been shown to provoke social interaction. ASD subjects were either allowed to interact with the robot to receive bubbles (such as by pushing a button) as well as a motor output from the robot (spinning) or could sit and watch while the robot did nothing. Those patients who were allowed to interact with the robot showed a significant increase in social behaviors such as speech and continued robot interaction. Thus, it has been concluded that the robots’ social behaviors are causing a response in ASD patients.
This work shows that robots are gaining prevalence in studying the social aspects of human intelligence. While it is still important to use robotics to study how human processing works, it will be of extreme value to also continue research in the field of emotions and social communication.
Developing Robots That Can Teach Humans – Science Nation