For those brought up on science fiction (of the non-Asimovan kind), a robot is a cast-iron dummy that walks like an arthritic and talks like Ajit, right? Wrong, say researchers from a European project called ‘Feelix Growing’ who are trying to make robots that interact with people emotionally. The idea seems to be to develop actual behavioural capabilities in robots as they interact with humans socially and emotionally and learn from the feedback they receive. This isn’t unlike how babies learn behaviour from the patterns of movement and emotions in the world around them.
Besides the usual cameras, audio and contact sensors, artificial neural networks will help these ‘androids’ adapt to changing inputs like patterns in behaviour, voice and movement. This is in line with the amazing speed at which robotics have developed ever since Karel Capek coined the word ‘robot’ from a Czech word for ‘work’. It was only a matter of time before technology translated them into bionic humans: entities with their organic and mechanical parts completely melded.
No wonder critics fear the flip side of robotics when “the rising tide of artificial intelligence” — as Stephen Hawking famously said — would swarm humans. Well, Feelix Growing suggests that within the next 20 years robots should even have sexual identities and personalities as they translate languages, teach school, and nurse patients in hospitals and at home. Sounds like a no-brainer. No?