Robots need to ask for help

Veloso: robots 'need to ask for help'

Some aspects of robotics are proving so difficult to achieve that it is time to stop trying to make them self-contained and reassess how the machines could fit into society, a leading researcher has claimed.

Professor Manuela Veloso of Carnegie-Mellon University acknowledged to an audience containing some of the wold's top computer scientists attending the Alan Turing Centenary Conference in Manchester (Sunday 24 June): “Robots have tremendous limitations.”

Veloso pointed to the problem of achieving what are simple functions for most humans, such as turning door handles and climbing stairs. Showing a picture of the many different types of door handle that exist, she asked: “What kind of machine learning will solve this? Robots won’t be able to go up stairs for at least the next ten years.”

Continued Velso, “Then I told my students that it’s OK for robots to have limitations. We are going to allow them to have in their plans to intelligently and pro-actively ask for help.” She said they might seek assistance from people - or even from other robots and computers.

Veloso added that the situation for robots is not so different to that for humans: “As humans, we are moving in this direction. If I ask you a question, people often reply: ‘I will Google it’. We need to change what problem-solving is in artificial intelligence, so that it is not about doing it all on-board and knowing it all. Intelligence is [also] about knowing what you don’t know.”

The researcher pointed to work on assistance robots, called CoBots, her team uses at CMU for transporting packages and other tasks. “None of my visitors get directions to my office. The robots show them and nobody chaperones the robots.”

The CoBots, however, do not have arms so they cannot control the elevators. “In the elevator, it asks you to press the button for it. If there is no human there to help, no problem, it will wait for someone who can help. If no-one helps then it sends an email to ask someone to come and help it. If no-one arrives, it goes back to the lab – the package it’s carrying is delivered later. As a robot, you have in your behaviour the idea that humans are there to help.”

More information:
http://www.turing100.manchester.ac.uk/
http://eandt.theiet.org/news/2012/may/alan-turing.cfm
http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~mmv/

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