The biggest draw of the show was Omron Automation’s ping-pong robot Forpheus. What was lost among the excitement of the show was the fact that, in addition to being able to play table tennis, Forpheus is also capable of recognizing and responding to various human emotions.
According to Keith Kersten, a representative for Omron Automation:
Forpheus is far from the only robot who shows off this kind of impressive emotion reading technology. In the hunt to create more helpful, responsive autonomous machines, many robotics companies are working hard to build computers that can empathize with humans and tailor their actions so as to anticipate their owners’ needs.
One such company is Emoshape, which is building software for robots that will help machines to learn more about humans’ moods based on their facial expressions. The company takes a novel approach to this, as engineers work to create an “emotion chip” for machines so that they can approach emotional learning with some degree of understanding as to what it feels to be happy, or sad, or otherwise frustrated.
If this technology sounds a bit like science fiction, it’s worth noting that the company still has a long way to go before robots can adequately experience a full range of human emotions.
That said, we’re not a million years from seeing this technology in action—as machine learning develops in complexity, it’ll get easier for computers to be able to figure out what’s going on in a person’s head based solely on their facial expression.
Given that AI programs are now getting advanced enough to be able to predict the likelihood of a person developing cancer, presumably it’ll only be a matter of time before this same technology can be used to help machines to preempt the best way to help us calm down when we’re feeling stressed.
That said, we can only hope that this technology isn’t built so as to make robots too empathetic. If we’re deliberately torturing robots by building negative emotions into their programming (say, by making them watch the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s Up), they probably won’t appreciate our efforts.
As anyone who’s ever read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy can attest, giving robots personalities and emotions seems like an excellent way to make them very annoyed at their creators.