Robots Are Your Friends ... or They Will Be

"That's impossible, because artificial intelligence is computer intelligence and although it can imitate intelligence, it cannot be intelligent," Oh said. "Think of [Rodin's] "The Thinker" statue. We think he is thinking, yet he is just positioned in that way. [With robots,] there is no thinking involved."

Oh believes the only potential danger for a robot's instability would be caused by the inability of programmers to resolve a complex program crash that could cause a robot to act up.

"It would be a giant error," he said.

Hanson, on the other hand, believes that with computers getting smarter every two years, the "Terminator" scenario would be quite possible unless scientists teach artificial intelligence compassion and how to read human emotions.

"Emotions are helpful for a social species, but dispensable for an entity that does not need the assistance of other entities in order to survive ... or reproduce," Hanson said. "Without compassion and human emotion, robots could become sociopaths."

When it comes to being social, Grace, a robot from Carnegie Mellon University, takes the title. Grace is a socially interactive mobile robot. She was an instant hit when she attended a conference in Canada in 2003.

"She is a six-foot-tall, drum-shaped robot whose head is a computer monitor with a highly expressive, digitally animated female face," said her handler, Greg D. Armstrong.

At the conference, Grace had to find her way into the convention center, register for the conference, take an elevator and enter the room where she was to deliver a speech and then deliver the speech all by herself. She managed to do it all without any assistance.

Grace is used in research on social interaction with people while moving around human environments.

"She uses a laser and a camera to navigate through rooms, around furniture, and with people, trying to figure out people's intentions so that she can move in a socially appropriate manner," said Marek Michalowski, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon who develops and studies human-robot interaction with Grace.

"Meanwhile, she uses her personality to ask for help, entertain people, and provide assistance to those she interacts with," he said.

Similarly, Quasi, an animatronic robot created at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, is used to study how to design characters that are emotionally expressive, approachable and engaging.

"Quasi has a number of features that allow him to express emotion and personality, including color-changing eyes and antennae, upper and lower eyelids that behave like eyebrows, and antennae that can move forward and backward, as well as in and out, giving them an expressive quality -- not unlike that of a dog's ears," said Seema Patel, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate and CEO of Interbots.

The Carnegie Mellon team reported that most people who meet Quasi quickly form a strong emotional connection with him.

Twenty-five years from now, the same human-computer interaction design principles that allow Quasi to form such strong bonds with people, will be vital when creating these next-generation interactive devices, according to Patel.

As devices and robots become more and more interactive, people will expect them to exhibit believable personality and emotion. It will be important for engineers to design products capable of meeting consumers' expectations and forming connections with their owners.

"I wouldn't be surprised if, in 2031, your microwave, television , and computer were all just as friendly and expressive as Quasi is," Patel said.

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