Robots Taught Human Communication Secrets

Roboticists are letting robots learn all of the secret ways that human beings share information with each other. In a recent paper, researchers at Carnegie Mellon, ATR Robotics in Kyoto and Osaka University programmed two different robots to use seemingly unintentional gestures to communicate information to human beings.

The researchers used the well-known robots Robovie (which has a stylized human-like visage) and the Geminoid robot (which has an eerily human face). The introductory abstract for their paper gives you the basic idea:

"Human communication involves a number of nonverbal cues that are seemingly unintentional, unconscious, and automatic—both in their production and perception—and convey rich information on the emotional state and intentions of an individual. One family of such cues is called “nonverbal leakage.” In this paper, we explore whether people can read nonverbal leakage cues—particularly gaze cues—in humanlike robots and make inferences on robots’ intentions, and whether the physical design of the robot affects these inferences. We designed a gaze cue for Geminoid—a highly humanlike android—and Robovie—a robot with stylized, abstract humanlike features—that allowed the robots to “leak” information on what they might have in mind. In a controlled laboratory experiment, we asked participants to play a game of guessing with either of the robots and evaluated how the gaze cue affected participants’ task performance."

Now watch the following video, and see how well robots do in interpreting human gestures and how well the humans do in interpreting robot gestures.


(Nonverbal leakage in Robots)

The researchers found that human participants did better when paired with the human-like Geminoid robot; the human subjects were also less likely to realize that they had read a cue from the Geminoid robot. This result poses an interesting challenge to roboticists, because it gives them an incentive to get closer to the "uncanny valley" discomfort that people have when confronted with a robot that is too human-like in appearance.

Robots in fiction have also learned to communicate with secretive gestures that can be non-intentional and automatic. For example, in the 2004 movie I, Robot, Sonny communicates his intentions with a subtle wink.


(Sonny winks to communicate in I, Robot)

From Nonverbal Leakage in Robots: Communication of Intentions through Seemingly Unintentional Behavior (pdf) via BotJunkie.

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