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).