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Projo Robot Teaching Assistant

Robot will be teaching in selected public schools across America this year. The effort is the first of several robot experiments planned and is backed by a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It will be conducted by a coalition of researchers from Yale University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California and Stanford University.


(Projo works with Oumou Doumbia at a New York school )

The New York robot experiment relies on a basic insight: Children don't like admitting mistakes but they enjoy pointing out someone else's. The idea was to "use that to our advantage," said Sandra Okita, an assistant professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who is leading the experiment.

She programmed her robot—a $14,000 android nicknamed "Projo," with glowing eyes, bulging triceps and a futuristic-looking white and orange spacesuit—to make carefully calculated errors when working with students. As the children correct their 2-foot-tall partner, she hopes they become more aware when they make the same mistakes.

"I think the imperfect robot is good for humans," Ms. Okita said. "It has to be a give-and-take relationship where you influence the robot and the robot influences you."

It took only one session in a Harlem school for 11-year-old Oumou Doumbia to declare Projo a "friend" and collaborator—although she was relieved to see the machine's small stature. A human-sized robot "would definitely freak me out," she said.

Teaching machines have been a staple in science fiction for more than sixty years. In his 1951 story The Fun They Had, Isaac Asimov wrote about a mechanical teacher:

Margie went into the classroom. It was right next to her bedroom, and the mechanical teacher was on and waiting for her. It was always on at the same time every day except Saturday and Sunday, because her mother said little girls learned better if they learned at regular hours.

Here's another example from a 1984 Bruce Sterling story, that uses a virtual teacher:

When Nikolai Leng was a child, his teacher was a cybernetic system with a holographic interface. The holo took the form of a young Shaper woman. It's "personality" was an interactive composite expert system manufactured by Shaper psychotechs. Nikolai loved it.
(Read more about the cybernetic teaching system)

Via Wall Street Journal.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/12/2013)

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