Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sociable robots

The field of sociable robots still has a long way to go, with robots such as Cog and Kismet (now museum pieces) being just the tip of a very large iceberg of research possibilities.  Once you get into the issues which arise when multiple minds interact then a lot of previous work from sociology or social psychology suddenly becomes relevant, and these areas appear to have been largely overlooked by the mainstream of AI research thus far.  I think in the longer term these factors will prove to be essential to building genuinely human-like machines which can seamlessly integrate with the world of humans.

So once you're an embodied being with an ongoing existence then you can build up episodic memories as a catalog of your recent salient experiences, and deciding how long these memories stick around depends upon how much affective impact they had, and in turn it seems that the origins of affect are not just something static coming from objective environmental stimuli but can be manipulated in various ways, such as episodic framing or intergroup emotions.  Variable rates of decay in different dimensions of affect associated with memories can produce different personality types, reminiscent of the "real people personalities" from the Douglas Adams books.

Contemporary social robots only manage to reproduce a few elements of second order relations (theory of mind), whereas when you look at the complexity of relations which most humans can deal with it's up to 5th order or beyond.  So, for example a second order relation is something like "I can imagine what you are imagining", but within a typical novel or TV soap opera you have longer chains such as "The reader/viewer knows that character X believes that character Y wants to do Z".  Once you've mastered the second order then understanding more complicated relations seems to be just a loop over the same structures.

In the near term I think most robots aren't going to need real people personalities or social smarts - they'll just be treated as appliances - but the history of toy robots such as the AIBO or Pleo demonstrates that there is a market for robots which aren't exclusively about utility or convenience but which exist in the web of minds as dynamic personalities.

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