Some time in the future, robots will be able to learn tasks independently, adjust their behavior to match the situation, and use their knowledge to solve new challenges. That's not the tag line from the next Terminator film, and by “the future” we mean right now: in a lab at the Tokyo Institute of Technology
Lead researcher Osamu Hasegawa and his colleagues demonstrated a new robot designed to learn new tasks without human prompting or supervision. The team has come up with an operational algorithm they call SOINN, which stands for Self-Organizing Incremental Neural Network.
SOINN allows the robot to prepare a glass of cold water by first pouring water into a glass, then putting the glass down, and lastly adding ice.
As strange as it may sound, up to now robots haven't been able to “realize” that producing a glass of icewater is a multi-step process.
In practical terms, let's say a refined version of a SOINN-equipped robot assists an elderly Japanese person in their home, and the human asks the robot to prepare a cup of tea – but they want green tea. “The robot doesn't know how,” explains Hasegawa, “so it asks robots around the world (via the Internet) how to make tea.”
We're not out of the woods yet, as there are many, many ways to make tea. “Suppose, for example, that a robot in the UK tells it how to make British-style tea,” continues Hasegawa. “We think this robot will become able to transfer that knowledge to its immediate situation, and make green tea using a Japanese teapot.”
Here's a video of the robot in action, pouring a cup of plastic pellets meant to approximate water:
By composing SOINN and allowing robots to “think as humans do” when attempting new tasks not previously programmed, society has taken a bold step toward independence and co-dependence.
The former will allow elderly and/or disabled humans to live on their own, while the robots who help care for them won't need to be micro-managed. The latter? We might end up depending on robots in order to live longer, more satisfying lives. Perhaps the question robots might someday ask is, do THEY really need US? (via CNET and Diginfo)