Robots Take Our Jobs By Reading Our Instructions

A European project called "RoboHow" is seeking to train robots by having them read written instructions on WikiHow. It seems like humanity is just asking for mass unemployment.


(PR-2 robot trains)

A robot called PR2 in Germany is learning to prepare pancakes and pizzas by carefully reading through WikiHow’s written directions. It’s part of a European project called RoboHow, which is exploring ways of teaching robots to understand language. This could make it easier for people to communicate instructions to robots and provide a way for machines to figure out how to perform unfamiliar tasks. Instead of programming a robot to perform precise movements, the goal is for a person to simply tell a robot what to do.

Achieving more could prove very useful as robots become more commonplace and need to work more closely with people. “If you have a robot in a factory, you want to say ‘Take the screw and put it into the nut and fasten the nut,’” says Michael Beetz, head of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Bremen in northern Germany, where the RoboHow project is based. “You want the robot to generate the parameters automatically out of the semantic description of objects.”

Once a robot has learned how a particular set of instructions relates to a task, its knowledge is added to an online database called Open Ease, so that other robots can access that understanding. These instructions are encoded in machine-readable language similar to the one used in the Semantic Web project.

This reminds me of the talk between robots (TBR) feature discussed by Frederik Pohl in his 1954 short story The Midas Plague. In the story, Henry is a companion robot that accepted verbal commands; these robots would then cooperate with each other, sharing information to better server their masters:

"Fine! Well, get started on the other things, then."

"Yes, sir," said Henry, and assumed the curious absent look of a robot talking on the TBR circuits - the Talk Between Robots radio - as it arranged the appointments for its master.

Via Technology Review.

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