I wrote this news story for WSJ. Custom Studios, a content marketing unit of the Wall Street Journal. This story appears in the unit’s Tech Mahindra project.
Robots grow smarter through a developing artificial intelligent network as humans feed in interactions with them.
It’s a typical scene in sci-fi movies where robots interact and work alongside humans. The droids in the Star Wars film series — C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8 — are the more recognized ones in pop culture.
But that scenario is not far from becoming mainstream in modern societies. A wave of robots powered by artificial intelligence built with cognitive science methodology is surfacing. The robots process natural language through human voice commands and react with visual and auditory aids.
Some of them target the education industry. The robots act as a tool to enhance childhood development under the parents’ supervision. A Shenzhen-based startup in southern China is building an interactive robot that intends to be a kid’s companion. It also claims to track children’s learning development.
“The current state is competitive: teachers, parents, and family members have limited time to interact with children,” Gavenraj Sodhi, CEO of 7 Senses Labs, said in a presentation. He described the scenes of crowded schools and dual working parents households, where kids are not receiving adequate teachings.
Mr. Sodhi’s product, Solbit, is a moving robot that caters to 3 to 12 years old. Children play math games and identify the objects when the robot displays graphics. The 19-inches tall robot also strives to read stories to kids.
Solbit aims to integrate into a family’s home. Other promising features include scanning a food item’s label to read its calories content, showing movies, performing video chats, and switching lights off.
Technologists program the interactive robots with cognitive science disciplinaries such as neuroscience, linguistics, arts, and psychology to process information. Besides displaying the correct answer to a query, the robots also respond with emotions. They use encouraging language when children have difficulties to tackle a math problem and show a thumbs-up on the screen if answered correctly.
While children learn from the robot’s content, the robots also gather responses from the children. They synchronize and process the information through machine learning in the company’s growing artificial intelligent network. The robots react more appropriately and humanely as time goes by as they communicate and learn from each other.
Through big data analysis, the startup claims it is capable of analyzing the children’s performance and providing a dashboard of the kids’ education development for parents and teachers.
The education tech company develops learning modules and work with partners to develop software content. The content is bundled in packages to sell in tiers to retain their customers besides selling the hardware units.
For adults, there’s already a humanoid robot that reacts according to human emotions out in the market. A robot named Pepper first appeared in Japan in 2015. The robot uses sensors to detect human’s gestures and analyzes human expressions through facial recognition technology, with the goal to carry a conversation with people. The 1.2 meters tall Pepper can also perform a hug.
While Pepper isn’t popular for domestic use yet, it is deployed as a greeter at cafes and shopping malls to interact with customers. The cognitive advancement of Pepper is similar to Solbit, in which the robots become smarter and make fewer mistakes as the machines learn through its cloud AI data.
An ongoing debate about whether the future of AI is a friend or foe. Critics have warned automation will replace jobs in certain sectors such as the elimination of concierge staff with Pepper. At the same time, AI brings in more work opportunities for scientists and technologists.
Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX CEO, painted a dark scenario of the advancement of AI taking on more neurocognitive processing. He told U.S. governors at a conference in July that artificial intelligence is a threat to the existence of human civilization in the event of its execution beyond human control. He urged the government to regulate and oversee the development of the technology.
However, Mark Zuckerberg has subsequently retorted saying Musk’s doomsday comments to be irresponsible. He said that in the next five to 10 years AI will deliver so many improvements in the quality of our lives citing examples in health care and self-driving cars. “If you’re arguing against AI you’re arguing against safe cars that aren’t going to have accidents,” he said.
The discussion of the potential dangers of AI will be ongoing, but perhaps it is not so much the technology itself, but what humans create out of it that’s to be considered and anticipated.
This story first published on WSJ. Custom Studio’s website.