The Robots podcast describes themselves as “the podcast for news and views on robotics. In addition to insights from high-profile professionals, Robots will take you for a ride through the world’s research labs, robotics companies and their latest innovations.”
Their most recent edition is on robot learning, where I was interviewed about social learning and my lab at Georgia Tech, and Sethu Vijayakumar is interviewed about his lab and the distinctions between human and machine learning.
They have more than thirty topical episodes of interviews with more than 60 roboticists over the past two years. It’s quite a fun to browse through.
This recent article in the New York Times looks at the complicated work of service dogs and argues that this suggests that there is more to dog intelligence than perhaps previously assumed. This reminds me of one of my favorite classes that I took as a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab. It was called “Cognitive Dog” and was taught by Bruce Blumberg (who is now at Blue Fang games, and teaches a version of this class at Harvard)
The premise of the class (and Bruce’s AI research) is that for “socially intelligent machines” perhaps we shouldn’t really be shooting for human-level intelligence, what would it take to get dog-level intelligence? Dogs are interesting because they are so expertly capable of social interaction with humans: reading social and emotional cues from humans, learning skills/tasks from humans and working collaboratively with humans. Sounds like everything I want a service robot to do!
I continue to find this idea of dog-level social intelligence inspirational from an HRI perspective because it forces you to admit that the problem is not about speech, language, or a common morphology for doing similar actions. Dogs don’t do any of these things, yet they accomplish so much in collaboration with humans. I think Dr. Blumberg is right, I want a robot that is as smart as my dog (…see fig. 1).
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At the TEDMED conference last week, Colin Angle announced that iRobot is getting into healthcare robotics.
iRobot believes that next-generation practical robots have the potential to help caregivers perform critical work and extend the time that people can live independently. Robots may be capable of assisting in senior care in a variety of real-life situations, including household chores and the on-time administration of medication. This could ultimately lower the cost for care.
I’m often asked to define what a social robot is. And the definition that I’ve been using for the past few years is “any robot that is designed to interact with people as part of its functional goal.” I like this definition because it lets the end scenario determine whether or not a robot is social rather than the designer of the robot. For example, a robot could be designed to deliver medicine to a person without very much attention to HRI, focusing only on navigation and planning, but I would still call this a social robot (albeit not likely to be a successful one).
So in this definition the Roomba is not really a social robot. When functioning properly, you shouldn’t have to interact with it very much at all. Ideally it’s mostly functioning when you are away. This move into healthcare robotics now sends iRobot squarely into the domain of social robots, designed to interact with humans as part of their functional goal. It will be exciting to see this develop!