Search results for: natural language processing

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Help Researchers Figure Out How To Help Robots Understand Your Commands

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robobutlerWhile significant strides have been made recently in natural language processing, one of the current drawbacks for most robots is the inability to understand language that isn’t coded in ones and zeroes. For programmers, a future full of robotic servants, coworkers, and mates might seem pretty exciting, but for those of us who would rely on spoken language to communicate with robots, it seems a little more daunting. Cornell’s Robot Learning Lab is hard at work on this problem, trying to teach robots to take verbal instructions.

Language itself is often vague and broad — take Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, for instance. The first law is that a robot cannot harm a human, or allow a human to come to harm. At first glance, that might seem clear enough, but what exactly constitutes harm? Asimov himself posed this question in the story “Liar!” which features a mind-reading robot named Herbie. Herbie lies to its human colleagues because it knows what they want it to say — he tells an ambitious human that he’s next in line for a big promotion, and he tells a heartsick human that her feelings for her coworker are reciprocated. Herbie lies because telling people what they don’t want to hear would be emotionally harmful, but of course when they realize Herbie has been lying they’re humiliated and undergo harm anyway. Asimov’s law is typically interpreted as intending to prevent physical harm, but Herbie’s read of the law makes sense, given the different types of harm one can experience. If a robot were to be programmed with such a law, the robot would also have to be programmed with an understanding of all the different interpretations of the word harm, as well as relative harm (a scratch versus a bullet wound, etc).

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Robotic Systems To Field 311 Calls In New York City

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311 nycIf you’ve ever lived in New York City, chances are you’ve had occasion to dial 311 at some point. 311 is the city’s 911 for non-emergencies, so when people convene under your window at 4:30 am for an impromptu party, 311 is the number you call (provided you don’t go out and join them). The network fields 60,000 complaints and questions per day via phone, text, app, and website—there’s not much downtime for those on the receiving end of New Yorker complaints. And that’s precisely why—you know what’s coming here—the 311 center is adding robotic systems to answer the easier questions.

Since its inception in 2003, humans have fielded these queries 24/7. It’s surprising that’s gone on so long in the age of automated operators. In fact, the 311 center is so busy that a Microsoft Researcher likened it to a “NASA control center.” All that manpower is, of course, expensive, so after visiting the center, Microsoft began devising programmable software that can answer the easy, factual questions, such as queries about school closings or parking regulations. My initial thought is that people calling with these questions should use this miraculous invention called the Internet. However, it’s true that local questions are harder to answer online than general ones.

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Japan’s Kirobo Robot Talks To Us From Space

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One small step for man, one even smaller step for robots. On August 21, Japan’s adorable Kirobo robot became the first robot to speak in outer space, putting to shame — at least linguistically — all the awesome rovers and satellites hanging out in our neck of the cosmic woods.