If there is one thing which I’ve learned from watching films, it’s that in the future robots are going to cause a lot of trouble for human beings. Once they become advanced enough they will join together to kill us, enslave us or perhaps just keep us in containers to be used as a power source. Terminator Salvation, released last week, tells the story of how human beings are fighting against the machines for their survival even in 2018.
Can’t we just work together and get along? Well, maybe we can. Researchers on the JAST (Joint-Action Science and Technology) project are looking into ways to build robots which can anticipate human action, allowing them to collaborate with human beings on simple tasks.
The JAST team is multidisciplinary, bringing together scientists from robotics, psychology and the cognitive sciences. In order to make human-robot interactions more natural the team first examined how humans collaborate together, in particular how we observe each other when working together on an activity.
When we watch someone doing a task our brains activate mirror neurons to map the activity. This allows us to work out what is going on and notice when someone makes a mistake. The JAST team have programmed their robot to use a similar observation based system, allowing it to compare a person’s action to the task at hand.
The net result is that the JAST robot does not just learn how to do a particular task, but rather it learns how to work with a human being to accomplish it. For example, it can distinguish between different tools and different ways in which their human partner can hold it for different functions.
This looks like a step towards improved human –robot relations. Maybe we will never need John Connor for our salvation, but I still can’t shake of the feeling that robots like these are just trying to lure is into a false sense of security…
You can see a video of the robot on the ICT results website. It doesn’t look as cool or sophisticated as most movie robots, but I do like its orange top.