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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Researchers investigate early language acquisition in robots

Researchers investigate early language acquisition in robots(—Research into robotics continues to grow in Europe. And the introduction of humanoid robots has compelled scientists to investigate the acquisition of language. A case in point is a team of researchers in the United Kingdom that studied the development of robots that could acquire linguistic skills. Presented in the journal PLoS ONE, the study focused on early stages analogous to some characteristics of a human child between 6 and 14 months of age, the transition from babbling to first word forms. The results, which shed light on the potential of human-robot interaction systems in studies investigating early language acquisition, are an outcome of the ITALK ('Integration and transfer of action and language knowledge in robots') project, which received EUR 6.3 million under the 'Information and communication technologies' (ICT) Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
Scientists from the Adaptive Systems Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom have discovered that a robot analogous to a child between 6 and 14 months old has the ability to develop rudimentary linguistic skills. The robot, called DeeChee, moved from various syllabic babble to various word forms, including colours and shapes, after it 'conversed' with humans. The latter group was told to speak to the robot as if it were a small child.
'It is known that infants are sensitive to the frequency of sounds in speech, and these experiments show how this sensitivity can be modelled and contribute to the learning of word forms by a robot,' said lead author Caroline Lyon of the University of Hertfordshire.
In their paper, the authors wrote: 'We wanted to explore human-robot interaction and were deliberately not prescriptive. However, leaving participants to talk naturally opened up possibilities of a wide range of behaviour, possibilities that were certainly realised. Some participants were better teachers than others: some of the less good produced very sparse utterances, while other talkative participants praised DeeChee whatever it did, which skewed the learning process towards non-words.'
The researchers said one of the reasons that the robot learnt the words is because the teacher said the words repeatedly, an already anticipated response. The second reason is that the non-salient word strings were variable, so their frequencies were spread about. According to the team, this phenomenon is the basis of a number of automated plagiarism detectors, where precise matches of short lexical strings indicate copying. Lastly, they said the phonemic representation of speech from the teacher to the robot is not a uniformly stable mapping of sounds.
'The frequencies of syllables in words with variable phonemic forms may be attenuated compared with those in salient content words, or parts of such words,' they wrote. 'It has long been realised that there is in practice a great deal of variation in spontaneous speech. This work shows the potential of human-interaction systems to be used in studies of language acquisition, and the iterative development methodology highlights how the embodied nature of interaction may bring to light important factors in the dynamics of language acquisition that would otherwise not occur to modellers.'
More information: Lyon, C., et al. 'Interactive Language Learning by Robots: The Transition from Babbling to Word Forms'. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38236. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038236
Provided by CORDIS
"Researchers investigate early language acquisition in robots." August 24th, 2012.

Robot NICO learning self awareness using mirrors

tRobot NICO learning self awareness using mirrors

(—Self awareness is one of the hallmarks of intelligence. We as human beings clearly understand that we are both our bodies and our minds and that others perceive us in ways differently than we perceive ourselves. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than when we look in a mirror.
In so doing we understand that the other person looking back, is really the three dimensional embodiment of who we really are as a complete person. For this reason, researchers use something called the mirror test as a means of discerning other animals' level of self awareness. They put a mark of some sort on the face without the animal knowing it, then allow the animal to look in a mirror; if the animal is able to comprehend that the mark is on its own face, and demonstrates as much by touching itself where it's been marked, than the animal is deemed to have self awareness. Thus far, very few have passed the test, some apes, dolphins and elephants. Now, researchers at Yale University are trying to program a robot that is able to pass the test as well.
The robot's name is NICO, and has been developed by Brian Scassellati and Justin Hart, who together have already taught the robot to recognize where its arm is in three dimensional space to a very fine degree, a feat never before achieved with a robot of any kind. The next step is to do the same with other body parts, the feet, legs torso and of course eventually the head, which is the most critical part in giving a robot self awareness, which is the ultimate goal of the project.
Programming a robot to have self awareness is considered to be one of the key milestones to creating robots that are truly useful in everyday life. Robots that "live" in people's homes for example, would have to have a very good understanding of where every part of itself is and what it's doing in order to prevent causing accidental harm to housemates. This is so because the movements of people are random and haphazard, so much so that people quite often accidently bump into one another. With robots, because they are likely to be stronger, such accidents would be unacceptable.
Scassellati and Hart believe they are getting close and expect NICO to be able to pass the mirror test within the next couple of months. No doubt others will be watching very closely, because if they meet with success it will be a truly historic moment.
© 2012 Phys.Org
"Robot NICO learning self awareness using mirrors." August 24th, 2012.
Posted by
Robert Karl Stonjek

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