Robot Intelligence Advances One Step at a Time
by Josh Katz
Researchers have developed robots that are capable of learning how to move, representing one of many new innovations in the areas of artificial intelligence and robotics.
Researchers from Leipzig have unveiled software that imitates the human "neural network," allowing robots to “learn” from their mistakes.
A video provided by researchers shows simulated animals and humans exploring their environment and learning, through trial and error, how to move around. The simulated human tries to stand up while the animal learns how to maneuver over a wall.
Professor Ralf Der at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics said, "It's like a newborn baby—it doesn't know anything but tries motions that are natural for its body. Half an hour later, it's rolling and jumping."
The software can be used on other robots and it is very flexible because, “As conditions change, so can the robot's behaviour,” according to the BBC. The robots still lack long-term memory, but researchers say they are working on that.
The Artificial Life XI conference in Winchester, England this week features the new technology as well as other findings, including the work of professor Mark Bedau of Reed College in Portland, Ore., who believes that computer evolution could help scientists better understand human evolution.
While the Leipzig researchers are creating robots that can learn to move, researchers from Plymouth University in England are building robots that can learn the concepts of language, just like children do.
“It is not really easy to copy and paste information from one robot brain to another because if you do that you are going to upset everything that the robot already knows. What we can do is let robots talk to each other over an internet connection, interact and exchange information in the way that children would exchange information in a nursery,” said Tony Belpaeme, one of the researchers on the Plymouth project.
The Artificial Life XI conference will also feature swarming robots, which are small, cheap, move in packs and are built with the motors that vibrate mobile phones. Acting like a swarm of bees, they can cooperate for tasks like exploring Mars or monitoring oil spills.
The Telegraph also writes that, “they can already be programmed to ‘feel hungry’ and charge themselves at special charging stations, to program each other with software, mimicking the trick that is used by bacteria, and to test each other.”
The military is increasingly using robotic technology, as well. Washington University’s Doug Few and Bill Smart predict that robotic forces will make up 30 percent of the Army by around 2020.
Humans operate all robots used by the Army remotely. “While movies display robots as intelligent beings, Smart and Few are not necessarily looking for intelligent decision-making in their robots. Instead, they are working to develop an improved, ‘intelligent’ functioning of the robot,” Science Daily reports.
Robots have also been used for the purposes of healing, as demonstrated by the robotic baby seal Paro. Paro, an improvement on Aibo, the robotic puppy, reacts to humans and expresses mannerisms similar to that of a living animal. Nursing homes have been using the robot to help treat dementia and loneliness in the elderly.