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This Preschool Is for Robots


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 The Brett robot practices simple assembly.

As part of an initiative to develop artificial intelligence that permits robots to learn the way humans do, researchers have developed a robot that learns by repeatedly trying to solve problems and adjusting its behavior each time to get closer to the goal.

Credit: Molly Matalon, Damien Maloney

University of California, Berkeley researchers have developed a robot named Brett, short for Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks. The robot is part of an initiative to develop artificial intelligence (AI) that lets machines learn the way humans do.

Pieter Abbeel, who runs the robotics group at Berkeley, says his research has been partially inspired by watching child psychology tapes. Abbeel says Brett's mind currently is somewhere between the infant and toddler stage, but is picking things up at a rapid pace.

The Brett project teaches robots to learn by repeatedly trying to solve problems and adjust their behavior each time to get closer to the goal. "Every five steps or so, it thinks about what it has experienced and updates its behavior," says Sergey Levine, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley's technology research lab.

Brett's brain relies on a combination of deep learning and reinforcement learning. Combinations of the two have been tried in software before, but the two areas have never been integrated so well in a single robot, according to AI researchers familiar with the Berkeley project. "That's been the holy grail of robotics," says the University of Washington's Carlos Guestrin.

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