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Making Friends With Your Bot: Researcher Explains Robot-Human Relations

Today, I'd like to pose you fine folks a question: how many of you have interacted with a robot recently? Anybody? No?

What if I were to tell you that virtually every single one of you have - and probably today? What if I were to tell you that everything from coffee machines to ATMs to your dishwasher technically fits the bill? You'd probably call me crazy, and dismiss me like that unshaven homeless man on the street corner who trumpets the end of days (that may or may not be my day job before too much longer; stay tuned). Thing is...it's true.

"Robots are actually everywhere now already," explains former Willow Garage senior researcher Leila Takayama. "When you go to an ATM and get cash out of the machine, you're interacting with a robot."

Most robots look more like this at the moment.Most robots look more like this at the moment.

Leila, speaking at the Gigaom Roadmap conference yesterday, took the stage for a keynote discussing the intricacies of human-robot interaction. More specifically, she talked about how we should interact with robots, and how we should think of them. At the moment, our interactions are tainted with expectations far too high for our current technology.

According to Takayama, robots aren't at the stage where they can be considered fully sentient, humanoid companions. Expecting that of them will invariably lead to disappointment.What we really need to do, she continued, is expect less of them rather than more. That way, we're more likely to help robots perform their tasks, allowing them to achieve better results. 

On the other end of the spectrum, however, robots could (and perhaps should) be constructed to express emotions understndable to humans, such as acknowledgement of a mistake. According to Takayama, when robots display self-awareness, humans tend to perceive them both as more intelligent and more manageable.

"What if those robots showed a little bit of remorse?" She asked. "What happens when there's a little bit of shame? I think we can go a really, really long way to making them more human-friendly. Setting expectations is a tricky thing to do, but it's particularly important with a loaded space like robotics." 

"Don't wait around for robotics to be this awesome thing. Take advantage of the bits and pieces now. That future is today," she concluded.