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Neurotic robots fall apart when asked to act human

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Why do robots "fall apart" when asked to act human in the sense of walking, talking, recognizing familiar objects? You may wish to check out a June 8, 2014 article, "Soon, robots to behave as humans?" The answer is because they're programmed that way, just as a cartoon character in a movie is drawn that way and given a personality by pen or software. Already, the media has labeled robots as neurotic when they fail to act more human, as if the label will cause a rise in a robot when it comes to rapport with a human. One solution lies in software algorithms that can mimic chemicals in the brain of a rodent. Some news headlines blare, "Neurotic Robots Acting Human," for example.

What if a robot could behave like a human? Scientists at University of California, Irvine are working on a "neurotic" robot that can copy human behavior. "We are trying to make the robot brain more like human brain," explains lead researcher Jeffrey L. Krichmar, a professor of cognitive science at University of California, Irvine. The research team is making a robot act like a mouse in a cage. See, the YouTube video on reverse engineering the brain, "Jeffrey Krichmar on Understanding Cognition through Building Brain-Inspired Robots." A rodent is being used to make the robot brain act more human, or could that be, more rat-like when brain chemical results are re-created with mathematical algorithms? (See, "The Cognitive Anteater Robotics Laboratory (CARL) at the University of California, Irvine. IEEE Intelligent Informatics Bulletin.") Or check out Krichmar's book, on Amazon.com, Neuromorphic and Brain-Based Robots.

One of the Grand Challenges posed by the National Academy of Engineering is to reverse-engineer the brain

In another recent article, "Neurotic Robots Act More Human," this one from Discovery News, robots that don't act too human are given the label of a mental disorder and called neurotic, at least in the news. But if robots are so neurotic (a human term, not a robotic description), why are robots being groomed to be soldiers? (See Robot Soldiers Are Coming.) The U.S. Army is considering replacing some men and women with robots. Play Video.

You might also take a look at the PJ Media article, "Well, that makes sense: Neurotic Robots Act More Human." But for more of a scientific approach, there's a PDF file with a serious tone, "Modeling individual differences in socioeconomic game playing."

Why the sudden interest in what's happening in the field of robotics is due to a group of the world's top researchers in this field presenting several works-in-progress at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation recently in Hong Kong

The 2014 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) was held last week at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, Hong Kong, China, from May 31 to June 5, 2014. The conference theme is Robotics and Automation: Technologies Enabling New Economic Growth reflecting the growing spectrum and recent developments in robotics and automation around the world. You may wish to see, "The 2014 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation."

Robots are good at computing algorithms, and playing games such as chess. Robots can navigate and decide which are the best travel routes. And robots easily can solve math problems. The only problem is getting them to act more human and less neurotic. There are issues when robots are asked to walk, talk or recognize everyday objects. A special area of science and engineering is dedicated to studying neurobiological robotics.

Neurobiological robotics

The field of neurobiological robotics is about giving robots certain unique human or animal abilities that can be copied, turned into software, and replicated in order to make robots more efficient. You may wish to check out the site, "The Robot Takeover Is Coming."

Should robots be instilled with fear or caution? A search-and-rescue drone, for example, might stay put during foul weather instead of taking a risk to complete its mission. There might be other times that it might be better to build a robot that doesn’t care what dangers it might face.

Robots can help children with autism who respond to inanimate objects that in turn, respond to them

Robots can be used to help children, not just to make war or keep the peace through fear of drones with clones. For example Krichmar has developed “Carl’s Junior” a sensitive, therapeutic robot used at a nearby school to help with children on the autism spectrum who seem to respond well to an inanimate, yet responsive object.

One thing robots are made to be is inanimate at this point, and they can be programmed to be responsive. What do robots want? Most likely for now, they want eyes. For the present, robots don't have good enough sensors because without eyes to make micro-movements, giving robots sight becomes another project for college classrooms. For example, a researcher at Boston University is working on making robots see better. That research team is giving humanoid robots micro-movements. What robots want is to understand three-dimensional structure in their environment. You may wish to check out the site, "8 Tricky Tasks for Robots."

“We’re trying to make the robot brain more like human brain,” said Jeff Krichmar, professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. “The brain has incredibly flexibility and adaptability. If you look at any artificial system, it’s far more brittle than biology.” You may wish to check out the article, "Well, that makes sense: Neurotic Robots Act More Human." You also may wish to see the June 6, 2014 article, "11 Insane Inventions You Didn't Know Existed."

A rat is used as a model for the robot's brain

Krichmar’s team uses a rodent model and varying levels of dopamine and serotonin, the two brain hormones that control pleasure centers and well-being. The effects of the chemicals on the rodent are then replicated in the robot’s software, Krichmar explained, according to the article. Also see, " "Soon, robots to behave as humans?"

Math equations are used to mimic how chemicals work in the brain. It's all about mathematical models of the brain of a rat. Scientists call that the cognitive system. To make the robot work, software is put in so that the software becomes the robot's controller. The researchers' findings were presented at the "IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation" in Hong Kong recently.

To the average reader, numerous news articles on the presentations boil down the research to the fact that scientists at University of California, Irvine are working on a "neurotic" robot that can copy human behavior. But no human is used in the research...just a rodent. That's what happens when the effects of the chemicals on the rodent are then replicated in the robot's software. But is such news inspiring most kids to get high grades in their beginning algebra classes?

One of the Grand Challenges posed by the National Academy of Engineering is to reverse-engineer the brain

Jeffrey Krichmar, whose research interests include neurobotics and embodied cognition, is an Associate Professor in both the Department of Cognitive Sciences and the Department of Computer Science at UCI. His group is attempting to meet the Academy's challenge by building detailed models of the brain that control the behavior of autonomous robots.

This approach provides a powerful tool for understanding brain and cognitive function, and may provide the groundwork for the development of intelligent machines that follow neurobiological rather than computational principles. What will the next invention be when it comes to robots getting smarter and more useful? Perhaps it's all about understanding cognition by reverse engineering the brain.

Robots may need to include parental controls

Older adults' fears that companion robots will negatively affect young people may create design challenges for developers hoping to build robots for older users, according to Penn State researchers. Companion robots provide emotional support for users and interact with them as they, for example, play a game, or watch a movie.

Older adults reported in a study that while they were not likely to become physically and emotionally dependent on robots, they worried that young people might become too dependent on them, says T. Franklin Waddell, according to the April 30, 2014 news release, "Robots may need to include parental controls." Waddell is a doctoral candidate in mass communications. Those surveyed also indicated that although they were not worried about being negatively affected by robots, the adults would still resist using the devices.

"We've seen this type of effect, which is usually referred to as a third-person effect, with different types of media, such as video games and television, but this is the first time we have seen the effect in robotics," says Waddell, according to the April 30, 2014 news release, Robots may need to include parental controls. "According to a third person effect, a person says they are not as negatively affected by the media as other people."

The researchers, who presented their findings on April 30, 2014 at the Association for Computing Machinery's Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, said this effect could eventually lead to changes in behavior. For instance, people who believe video games harm young people may tend to avoid the games themselves. Likewise, older adults who believe that companion robots could harm young people may tend to avoid robots.

To compensate for the effect, robot designers may need to consider adding controls that will help adults monitor the use of robots by children, says Waddell, according to the news release. Waddell worked with S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, and Eun Hwa Jung, a doctoral candidate in mass communications.

"Robot designers and developers look at older adults as a central user base for companion robots," says Waddell, according to the news release. "This effect is something they should consider when designing the interface for the robots to make sure, for example, that the robot includes some type of parental controls."

Robots with parental controls may convince adults that they can own and use robots and still protect children from their fears that the devices might lead to laziness and dependency

The researchers studied two types of robots: companion robots and assistant robots, said Sundar. Assistant robots are devices that help with everyday tasks, such as vacuuming the floor or playing a CD, he says, while companion robots are more interactive.

This interactivity may be one reason that users tend to attach human-like emotions to companion robots, Waddell explains, according to the news release. "A companion robot provides the user with a source of friendship," said Waddell. "They might watch TV with the participant, provide emotional support, or complete an activity with the user."

Waddell observes that the participants did not seem to show the same level of apprehensions about assistance robots

Researchers asked 640 retirees over the age of 60 -- 53 percent female and 47 percent male -- about whether robots would have negative effects on themselves and on others. For instance, they asked the subjects whether robots would make them lazier and encourage them to interact less often with other people. They then asked similar questions about the effects of robots on young people.

When it comes to assistance in doing necessary chores, robots can be used to help those who are in need of assistance in basic living skills such as hygiene, dressing, preparing food, cleaning a room, opening doors, communicating, or other basic skills that improve the quality of life for those in need of assistance as well as caregivers in the family or in institutions. The question is whether people welcome robots compared to guide dogs, live pets for therapy, and other ways to assist people. For example an exoskeleton can help people to walk who couldn't walk without the device. See, "Mind-controlled robotic suit to debut at World Cup 2014" or "The 2nd Gen Exoskeleton Robotic Suit | Military.com."

The Korea Institute for Advancement of Technology supported this study, which is part of an international research and development program between Penn State and the Industrial Academy Cooperation Foundation of Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea.

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