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ACM TechNews

When an Interface Becomes the Face

robot NAO

The robot NAO, developed by Softbank Robotics, is an interactive and personalized robot tested for educational and therapeutic purposes.

Credit: Glenda Hannibal

Social roboticist Glenda Hannibal at the University of Vienna in Austria considers how a future society supported by robots will transform human-digital interaction. "Could we imagine a future in which we do not use digital tools but rather interact with them as with independent beings?" she writes. Hannibal theorizes such a future would have interfaces functioning literally as faces.

Hannibal traces social robotics' origins to the late 1990s with the advent of robot toys for children, and the move to develop socially functioning machines evolved as western countries saw technology as a solution to demographic shifts. "These robots are no longer seen as mere instruments, but rather as crucial interaction partners for those people in our society who might be in need of some special help or care," Hannibal says. "But the ultimate goal in social robotics is a possibility of building more advanced robots that could eventually become true companions, and not only in the context of therapy or elder care."

This ambition is reflected in the creation of robots as family companions, Hannibal says. She predicts "humans will become more sensitive to how we can engage with technological interface (or face) and in turn robots will adapt to human needs."

From University of Vienna
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