Over the course of a decade, robotics engineer David Hanson has been working with great minds to create robots that are as socially interactive as humans. With the incredibly lofty goal of designing technologies that allow robots to eventually empathize with other beings, Hanson’s Character Engine combines a variety of technologies to accomplish some basic first steps, allowing his most recent robots to recognize facial expressions and respond accordingly.
As described by Hanson Robotics, these social robots are “capable of mimicking not just human emotions and facial expressions, but eye contact, face recognition, and naturalistic spoken conversation.” The robots are capable of determining what you’re looking at based on head and body position, can look around a room from person to person recognizing each along the way, and can use a series of complex algorithms to predict behavior and model potential courses of action.
The below TED video has inspired much thoughtful discussion on a number of related issues, ranging from classic philosophical dilemmas like the Other Minds problem, to thoughts on whether robots even need to emulate human behavior to make breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, to the nature of human emotion and memory. Hanson is optimistic about the future of socially capable robots, and has started to mass produce the Zeno spokesbot - a child-targeted companion modeled to interface with the internet, becoming smarter with use. The 18-inch Zeno will be available for $1500, while a 6″ version will retail for $300.