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Scientists Are Trying to Give Robots Social Skills


humanoid robot and business person in conversation, illustration

The researchers say their model is capable of capturing social interactions and social inferences.

Credit: Getty Images

A team of MIT researchers have developed a framework for robotics that incorporates social interactions, enabling the machines to understand how they help — or hinder — other robots or persons.

"Robots will live in our world soon enough, and they really need to learn how to communicate with us on human terms," says Boris Katz, head of the InfoLab Group at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and an author of a study on incorporating social interactions into Markov decision processes. "They need to understand when it is time for them to help and when it is time for them to see what they can do to prevent something from happening."

To test their framework, the team created 98 different scenarios in which virtual robotic agents helped or hindered each other based on guesses about the other robot's goals, then meshed those goals with their own.

Katz says the experiment is a small but important step toward teaching robots to recognize the goals of and engage with humans. He called it "the first very serious attempt for understanding what it means for humans and machines to interact socially."

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