Scientists are trying to teach robots to read so that they can understand road signs and shop names.
Experts believe developing literate artificial intelligence should be relatively simple because computers are already able to turn scanned books into text.
A team of roboticists are working on a test robot named Marge which has been fitted with advanced optical character recognition (OCR) reading software.
It is hoped that the fledgling technology can be used in rescue operations and work out where they are going inside buildings from signs, the Daily Mail reports.
The early prototype version has been fitted with a dictionary and spellchecker so it can interpret text which is not clearly written.
Ingmar Posner, roboticist at the University of Oxford, said a machine that can read will be a significant step forward.
"By reading a label on a closed door you can sometimes get a good idea of what can be found behind it," he told New Scientist.