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Robotics Education Science

Sony's Robot Attends Pre-School 228

Darren writes "Sony's Qrio humanoid robot has been attending a Californian pre school to play with children under the age of 2 since March to test if robots can live harmoniously with humans. I wonder if the testing includes monitoring the 'nightmare status' of the pre-schoolers?"
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Sony's Robot Attends Pre-School

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  • Re:Motivation? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @08:45AM (#12405934) Homepage Journal
    Humans are driven by various needs (e.g. shelter/sex/food/beer) - what needs do the robots have?

    The driving interest in toddlers (and that's what the article is about) certainly isn't sex or beer, and it also isn't shelter or fod - which is still provided by the parents.

    The driving interest in very young kids is pure interest. Our brains are just wired that way. Curiosity is a built-in feature.
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @08:48AM (#12405950)
    I'd bet that the first human-equivalent machine intelligence takes 18 years to develop after the first human-brainpower-equivalent CPU is created. It will take that long for the machine to "learn" the world if it only has a CPU equivalent to one human brain (1 HBE).

    Of course, if Moore's Law is still kicking, then 2 years into the learning phase, they can swap the 1-HBE processor for a 2-HBE processor. This will shorten the remaining learning period, but I doubt it will cut it in half. Learning to physically and mentally interact with the world will still take time. What might accelerate the learning time is if multiple copies of the intelligence can share experiences and learn directly from each other's mistakes/successes.

    The point is that the first intelligent robots will need to go to preschool to learn how to interact with the world.
  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @08:49AM (#12405955) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if the testing includes monitoring the 'nightmare status' of the pre-schoolers?"

    I wonder if the submitter has any clue as to what he's talking about.
    It's pretty difficult to give toddlers nightmares. They're not easily scared. They do cry over the slightest problem, mostly because crying is the only well-developed form of verbal communication available to them at that age. They are also excellent at forgetting whatever the problem was and getting on with their lifes. Watch a kid hurt itself. Then go away and watch the same kid 10 minutes later.

    It'd take a serious event to cause nightmares in those kids, and that machine has neither the looks nor the sheer physical power that would be required.
  • Re:Motivation? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lottameez ( 816335 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @08:49AM (#12405956)
    but that curiosity is itself a survival mechanism - we all must learn from our environment to live. Robots could care less if they survive or not, get smarter or not, etc.
  • by torpor ( 458 ) <ibisum@gm a i l . com> on Monday May 02, 2005 @08:49AM (#12405958) Homepage Journal

    I always wondered what motivation robots have for "learning".

    Robots have no motivation other than that given them by their creators.

    Robots are not sentient. We do not even know what sentience is. The only way for us humans to create sentience is to procreate.

    what needs do the robots have?

    Errm.. like all machines, they need a power source. That is all.

    Talking about robots as if they are alive and have motivation other than their code implements belies your otaku sensibilities. Clearly, you have not yet procreated, or you would not be so obsessed with making a machine which 'pretends to make it look as if you have done so, technologically'.
  • Re:Motivation? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by august sun ( 799030 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @08:52AM (#12405976)
    I always wondered what motivation robots have for "learning".

    Robots have no "motivation" to do anything. they have a reward function that they try to maximize, but certainly it's not anything like that capricious human thing we call "motivation" (which is actually a very good thing).

    Again, it should be mentioned that while it may make us feel very cool and cutting edge to apply human terms like learning, thinking, or motivation to machines; they really are ultimately meaningless in a non-human context and are only useful as analogues and in impressing your grand-mother with how her tivo "learns" her tastes

    as Edsger Dijkstra famously said:

    "The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim."


  • by Elminst ( 53259 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:03AM (#12406039) Homepage
    I would say that her reaction follows perfectly with the GP posts theory.
    Your mother is familiar with computers being boxes with keyboards and screens. She probably has 20-30 years of exposure to computers, all in this form.
    So of course a computer that is humanoid would be unfamiliar to her, and therefore freak her out.

    Today's preschoolers will be growing up with more and more humanoid robots around, and therefore will not be bothered by them at all. I would even theorize that if, in 30 years, you showed them a "regular" (box, keyboard, screen), they wouldn't know how to react to it.
  • Harmoniously?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by coffeecan ( 842352 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:23AM (#12406211)
    When was the last time ANYTHING was able to live harmoniously with humans. We seem to be able to live harmoniously with ourselves let alone a peice of animated plastic and circutry
  • by Mr Guy ( 547690 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:25AM (#12406248) Journal
    I think they'll find that it's not a matter of familiarity. It's a survival reflex and it's pretty deep. Your brain flags "almost human" things as grotesque and something to be avoided. It's why many people are afraid of clowns and wax figures. They look almost human, but still look wrong.

    People would be far more comfortable with Bender-like robots than with "I, Robot" style robots because they don't try to be human, just humanoid. If it looks sufficiently non-human to avoid triggering that reflex, they'll be alright. Other than that it'd have to be completely perfect, like Data.
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:31AM (#12406312)
    or maybe 9 years if we take into account that we need to rest (even though part of resting this time is important with regard to the learning activity)

    You may be right. The question is: is sleep/relaxation, etc. a critical part of intellectual development? For humans it definitely is -- sleep deprivation really messes up the brain. But even for non-biological intelligences I'd bet that some "downtime" is an important part of assimilating all the data of the day. Interacting with the world is a full-time job for the CPU that forces the deferral of many analysis and restructuring tasks that can only occur when the brain is offline.

    Perhaps androids would dream because dreaming is a critical maintenance/analysis cron job.
  • by rlamoni ( 443974 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:13AM (#12406848) Homepage
    It's funny you should mention Robo-cop. Because that is what we think of when we see bipedal robots. However, now these kids (who hopefully have not seen Robot-cop yet) will think of Sony's Robots. It is important to influence the public perception of new an innovative yet controversial products like this one.
  • Re:Motivation? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:18AM (#12406892) Homepage Journal
    Yes, but curiosity killed the cat...

    Seriously, it's easy to get led astray using evolutionary paradigms to explain traits. We often think of something as a clearcut, atomic quality that benefits or harms the individual.

    Curiosity is a good example. Clearly in an organism whose survival depends on complex and learned behaviors, a certain amount of curiosity is needed. But most people grow out of it and become dull,predictable, dependable adults. But some don't -- there's a continuum. And the variance of that trait in adults is useful to the tribe, if often harmful to the individuals on the right end of the bell curve.

    Og: This flint is mammoth dung! It keeps shattering when I try to work the edge.

    Gog: It's good enough. Just chip another piece of and sooner or later you'll get a good one.

    Og: Crap. I'm going to find some decent flint. See you in a few weeks.

    Now it may be frequently that Og comes up empty, or is killed, or gets lost and never re. Og is the type who runs across a cave and finds it impossible not to explore it. Now he risks getting eaten by a cave bear, but when he doesn't get eaten, he may have found the tribe a place to hide in times of trouble. The tribe benefits by having a few geeky cavemen and -women who can't keep their nose out of trouble, and the risk is concentrated on a few individuals, whose types will be reproduced again by the future variation in the trait.

    I think this is one fundamental difference between robots and humans. Being a human is like playing a game in which you don't really know the cards you've been dealt or are playing, but have to infer what's going on by how the play goes. Being a human is a journey of self-discovery. To design a human robot, you'd have to make it ignorant of it's own characteristics and make it have to deal with the consequences. Until that happens, a robot is just going to be an object.
  • Nonsense. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by solomonrex ( 848655 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:21AM (#12406931)
    Familiarity != tolerance

    The American South was more racist. Hitler was part Jewish. New Yorkers hate the cold. ;)
  • by vivIsel ( 450550 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:26AM (#12406989)
    I think you're somewhat missing the point. What's being tested is not whether the robot, say, will attack the humans, or injure them, or whatever.

    It's a test, rather, of the visceral, emotional response of children to a novel stimulus. (A child's perspective is something of an unadulterated--pun always intended--source of basic emotionality.)

    The idea is to discover how and if children will deal with an antropomorphic entity that is similar to, but paradoxically (to them, I'm sure) different from them.

    Reader Rabbit != humanesque robots. Beta testing of software != putting a robot amongst children in an unrestrictred environment. They're testing fundamentally different things.
  • by SilenceEchoed ( 840918 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:27AM (#12407009)
    I think our fear of the machines is both simplier, and more complicated, than a simple lack of familiarity. I see this issue more as to the age of introduction, not the time of exposure.

    As we grow older, we become less accepting of new ideas. While my peers tend to fear "home use" robotics, people my grandparents age (yes, they're still kicking, sort of) are scared to death of a simple home computer. My god daughter, on the other hand, is proficient and comfortable with a computer, and readily accepting of products such as the Asimo. The idea and precursers where there throughout her early childhood, so it's not even something she considers odd now.

    Kids, if introduced young enough, will accept just about anything. As far as they know, this is how the whole world is. Unless someone starts showing them old robot/end of the world movies, they have no reason to fear robots, and in most cases they won't.

    As for the small minority that are going to fear robots, keep this in mind: there are also young children afraid of flushing toilets.
  • Stupid schools (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Ch*mp ( 863455 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:32AM (#12407070)

    It really really ticks me off that a school has allowed a multinational to penetrate it's classrooms with pseudoscience.
    There is no way on Earth that this is a scientific experiment. Where's the control group?
    Its just b@stard Sony marketing using innocent children to get the keys to their parents bank accounts.

    How much in kick backs is the school getting? I bet the priniciple negotiated getting PS3 for themselves etc? I'd really like to know. That would be interesting jouranlism. (Any parents of these children out there??)

    It's as bad as allowing that 'Intelligent design' BS into classrooms.

  • by joshmccormack ( 75838 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @11:08AM (#12407523) Homepage Journal
    We think this is something new and unfamiliar. I think children might not be astounded by it. Children make mental associations incredibly well - far better than we do as adults, and they're not burdened by nostalgia, or philosophy, or issues with how abstract something is.

    Babies play with dolls that dance and sing when spoken to or squeezed in the right way. They're also often comfortable using technology like remotes, computers, and sophisticated toys. I don't see a reason why they wouldn't accept a robot.

    What exactly they're thinking about it - that it's a toy or something, is another matter.
  • by AcidLacedPenguiN ( 835552 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @11:31AM (#12407840)
    . . . that little boys tend to have a fascination with robots. I know that when I was a child, I was all like, "Man, it would be so sweet to have a robot."

    I just think all you old people should just chill out and go with the flow.
  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @11:56AM (#12408198) Journal
    I work with robots every day. It's always seemed to me that bipedal robots were a solution looking for a problem. Because robots can be optimized for the specific task they need to perform, they will be.

    People commonly think of a "robot" as a general purpose machine that can replace a human at any manual task, not realizing how many special-purpose robots are used in industry today. What people really want is the robotic maid (well, that and the sex robot, but anyway) and that's the hardest problem to solve.

    Eventually, we'll solve the vision and manipulation problems that stand in the way of a robot maid, and we may see bipedal robots at that point, but there are plenty of cool robots around today, if you know where to look.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 02, 2005 @02:58PM (#12410632)
    Hey, come on, Lore was the perfect one. Soong only built Data because the colonists wanted a "less perfect" android.

    Replace "perfect" with "human" and you'd be more correct. What unsettled people was that Lore had all the major qualities of a human being and was superior in some ways on top of that. Data, while still superior in some ways lacked some human qualities and was subject to inheirent ethical restraints. Thus Data was more acceptable to the general populace.

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