Monday, July 30, 2007

robots' emotions

What if robots not only seemed emotional, but acted on their emotions too? This is the idea behind a project to give a robot called the iCAT, (one of Time magazine's best invention of 2005) "emotional logic", as outlined in this Technology Review article.

The robot itself is made by a team at Philips Research as a tool for experimenting with human-robot interactions. It features speech recognition and servomotors that generate a wide variety of facial expressions to simulate different emotions. See videos of iCAT in action here and here.

And now, Mehdi Dastani and colleagues at Utrech University in the Netherlands are using the robot to test out 22 artificial emotions - including anger, hope, fear and joy - that determine its behaviour.

The Dutch scientists believe that assuming these "emotional" states could help robots perform complicated tasks without getting too bogged-down in planning and analysis. During navigation, for example, many sophisticated robots repeatedly analyse their position and strategy, requires plenty of computer power.

A robot with artificial emotions could perform much less analysis, relying instead on its "feelings". Once it sees that its current plan is going wrong it would become "fearful" and this would modify its behaviour from that point onwards.

Ultimately, Dastani thinks robot "emotions" could help machines interact with people in more sophisticated ways.

Personally, I think it would be interesting to see how such emotionally controlled robots could help with therapy for autism. Over the past few years, several studies have shown that autistic children benefit from interacting with robots. It encourages the development of social skills like making eye contact and paying attention to others. Perhaps an emotioPublish Postnal iCAT could provide a whole new perspective on emotions and social cues.

Magdalena Kogutowska, New Scientist contributor

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