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How to Raise a Personable Robot


Heather Knight performs comedy with her robot Data, made by French robot company Aldebaran.

Social roboticist Heather Knight says robots can stimulate social interactions between people.

Credit: Chris Crisman

Social roboticist Heather Knight's research focuses on making robots socially expressive so they can interact with people on a more personable level than today's machines.

Knight says robots can function as a stimulator for social interactions between people, although she thinks robot designers and policymakers may need to protect users from substituting robot interaction for human contact. Knight also believes the treatment of robots should be regulated so the machines are accorded respect.

She does not agree with the contention robots are taking jobs away from people and she is optimistic about the possibilities of human collaboration with robots. "Technology revolutions of course impact humans," Knight acknowledges. "But it is less about the technology than the socioeconomic environment that welcomes the technology in."

As head of Marilyn Monrobot Labs, Knight works on art projects that seek to combine robotics and entertainment, and part of her work involves performing stand-up comedy routines with a robot to gauge a machine's responsiveness to the audience. The robot can detect how humorous the audience finds a joke and thus cue up the next one, selected from a large joke database.

From Financial Times
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