Emerging Technologies

We need to start talking to robots

Spain's King Felipe, accompanied by Queen Letizia (L), shakes hands with Honda Motor's humanoid robot Asimo as they visit Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) in Tokyo, Japan April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC16A2135340

It’s now crucial that robots are taught how to communicate with the humans that they cross paths with. Image: REUTERS/Issei Kato

Brad Jones
Writer for Futurism, Futurism
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Emerging Technologies?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Artificial Intelligence is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Artificial Intelligence

In brief

Robots are set to become increasingly common in our day-to-day lives. To integrate into our society, it's crucial that they're taught how to communicate with humans.

Robots Among Us

The rise of automation is prompting all kinds of questions about the future of work for human employees, but there’s also another important consideration at hand — how are we to interact with robots as they become more commonplace in our day-to-day lives?

As robots become more capable of performing tasks independently, it’s crucial that they’re taught how to communicate with the humans that they cross paths with, whether they’re co-workers or complete strangers. Natural language will play an important role, but it’s only one part of a greater whole.

More Than Words

When humans talk to one another, what’s said only comprises a small amount of the information being relayed. Everything from facial expressions to the intonation of a person’s voice might give extra context or added insight into the topic at hand.

This is something that the scientists and engineers constructing the robots of tomorrow are careful to consider. A full vocabulary isn’t necessarily enough — there’s more to conveying a message than just finding the right words.

A project known as Baxter being developed by Rethink Robotics uses a pair of eyes on a screen to let people know what the robot is going to do next. The display is on a swivel, meaning that it can direct its attention to one of its two arms before it performs an action, making sure that any bystanders are well aware of what kind of motion is coming.

Loading...

This is a two-way street. As well as being able to signal their intentions to human onlookers, robots will need to be able to pick up of social cues dropped by others in order to be effective in their roles.

We’ve all been locked in a “hallway dance” when trying to give way to another human walking the opposite direction down a corridor. Nine times out of ten, it’s no big deal — but in a busy hospital ward, when one dance partner is a bulky robot, it could cause some problems.

A team at MIT’s Interactive Robotics Group led by Dr. Julie Shah has used machine learning techniques to teach a robot to observe anticipatory indicators from a human that can reveal which way they’re planning to turn. We know how to pick up on these cues from experience, but machines need to be taught the basics from scratch.

Customer Service

At present, we tend to think of robots as being good at manual labor. They can be built strong, so it makes sense to think of them lifting heavy loads and doing other physically intensive tasks.

Further advances in helping robots to interact with humans will allow them to take on a much wider range of vocations. Customer service positions, especially those where there’s a limited range of responsibilities, will be a perfect fit for machines once they’re able to hold a natural, productive conversation reliably.

A robot named Mario has already been trialled as a concierge in Belgium, handing out room keys and ingratiating himself with guests via a high-five. A project called RAVE is creating a robot that can teach young children without human input, holding their attention for six minutes at a time.

Robots excel in certain tasks because of their non-human qualities — they don’t tire, and they won’t turn their nose up at unpleasant or unfulfilling tasks.

However, as they take on a more diverse set of roles, they’ll need to learn some distinctly human skills. Being able to communicate with people is a key part of all kinds of vocations, and it doesn’t come naturally for a robot.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Emerging TechnologiesJobs and the Future of Work
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Post breakthrough: How AI can lift climate research out of the lab and into the real world

Joe Wegener, Mehdi Ghissassi and Hamid Maher

May 29, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum