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A Researcher and a Robot Walk Into a Bar . . .

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social robot Data and Heather Knight

Heather Knight and her joke-telling social robot Data, in Brooklyn, NY.

Credit: The Wall Street Journal

Carnegie Mellon University social robotics graduate student Heather Knight has helped develop Data, a stand-up-comedy-performing robot that can read, replicate, and respond to human social cues. Her research includes formal psychology-like user studies and software programming.

Through hours of trial and error, Knight carefully composes each word and gesture that is part of the stand-up routine. She also conducted interviews with professional stand-up comedians to learn about self-awareness and persona. "One of the first things they taught me is that [Data] needs to be real and authentic," Knight says. "If a robot just walks out there telling random jokes and not acknowledging that he is a robot, it isn't going to create a rapport with the audience."

View a video of Heather Knight discussing her work with social robots.

Data has been programmed to gauge audience response by hearing laughter and applause and by seeing green and red cards held up by audience members. Knight recently conducted a series of user studies using Data as a Carnegie Mellon campus tour guide. Knight monitored where people lost interest as indicated by their wandering eyes, a technique that she hopes robots will ultimately be able to utilize.

From The Wall Street Journal
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