A new iCub robot that may soon actually learn new languages is a stunning development in the field of artificial intelligence — it is an especially dramatic leap considering that in the past robots were simply programmed with information, not capable of adding any through "learning."
The experts working on the machine at Europe's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), INSERM (Institut nationa de la santo et del la receherch medicale) and the Université Lyon 1 believe that if they can make the polyglot robot a reality, the machine may unlock the door to a true "artificial neuronal network."
Such a network would allow human beings to finally "teach" robots how to do an assortment of other activities.
The innovation came about thanks to the years the iCub team put into developing a "simplified artificial brain." The brain in turn "reproduces certain types of so-called 'recurrent' connections observed in the human brain," writes Science Daily.
The system allows the robot to analyze and understand new phrases. These sentences may include new syntax/grammar structure, as well. Beyond this, the robot will have the ability to link together two different sentences and complete the phrase before spoken.
Fashioned with a byzantine foundation powered by 53 separate motors, the iCub is already capable of movement in the head, arms, hands, waist and legs. iCub's development team is currently engaged in giving the robot a sense of touch, as it already possesses a sense of "proprioception" (body configuration) and can see and hear, reports Red Orbit.
Before being taught how to "learn" language, Red Orbit says the iCub was taught how to balance on two legs.
"In tests with INSERM," continues Red Orbit, "researchers asked the iCub to point to a guitar, shown in the form of a blue object; and then asked the robot to point to a violin, shown as a red object. Prior to each task the robot was required to repeat the sentence and explain that it had fully understood the task it was asked to accomplish."
Because the human brain processes language at a real-time speed and creates expectations as people speak, the days of having an actual conversation with an iCub robot are still part of a sci-fi future that only might be coming to a store near you.
"At present, engineers are simply unable to program all of the knowledge required in a robot," says Dr. Peter Ford Dominey of the Robot Cognition Laboratory at INSERM and research director at CNRS. "We now know that the way in which robots acquire their knowledge of the world could be partially achieved through a learning process — in the same way as children."
In addition to conversing with a robot and truly teaching it to learn, this research could also be of value in treating the linguistics malfunctions of sufferers of Parkinson's disease.
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