Researchers made a robot that knows how to laugh with you

Researchers made a robot that knows how to laugh with you
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A robot who laughs might be seen in a dark ,, but it would seem less frightening if it did so during a conversation. Scientists have been testing this theory. A group of Japanese researchers at Kyoto University have created a mockup robot called Erica that is powered by an AI system that focuses on conversations.

Laughter is an integral part of human communication, so it would be interesting to see how people react to chatty robots. Their findings were published last week in the journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI.

Artificial intelligence is good at logic but laughs? It’s not so good. Researchers discovered that people laugh for different reasons. The AI system was able to distinguish two types of laughter to make it easier: solo or shared laughter, which is when the AI laughs at a subject, or while speaking.

Researchers trained the AI model how to laugh and allowed it to take part in speed dating with male students at university. Erica was remotely controlled by a female actress, who spoke into a microphone to control physical movements such as head nodding and other gestures.

Chats lasted from 10 to 15 minutes, and data was taken from 82 conversations. Researchers used microphones and cameras to record conversations and then annotated them with data based on solo and social laughs. They also noted differences in the laughs. This data was used to train the AI system on how to laugh and what kind of laugh to use. They then applied their shared-laugh algorithm to existing conversation software and asked 130 volunteers to listen in, and rate how well the robot simulated empathy, understanding, and human-likeness.

Overall the researchers found that Erica and its algorithm were able to convince people that it was paying close attention to what was being said in situations where laughter was appropriate. It did have its limitations and weaknesses. Erica was good at responding and laughing, but she didn’t know when to laugh. In their discussion, the researchers suggested that it could be because responding to a prompt is easier than understanding the reason for the conversation.

Whether Erica gets human humor is only one part of the big project roboticists are undertaking: Teaching robots social skills. Since 2017, scientists have been working on how to make a robot laugh convincingly (big tech companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Meta are also interested in this). A month ago, Italian engineers debuted a bartending robot that was capable of making small talk (unfortunately, it is shelved for the foreseeable future due to privacy concerns). The idea is that giving robots facial expressions, body language, speech and the ability to understand and react to people’s demands will make them more engaging, and better at day-to-day interactions.

But ultimately, there can be a slippery slope from a social exchange that feels natural to an uncanny valley-scenario. There are also ethical concerns with robots that are too believable. Nevertheless, there are practical reasons to keep working in this field: Making talking robots less creepy and more approachable by giving them the right human-like features, experts believe, will be especially useful for one day integrating them into healthcare, hospitality, or other service-oriented industries.

Charlotte Hu

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