This is my favourite picture from a brief, yet fascinating, expedition to Robotville. It’s got one more day in it, with a couple of dozen high-tech robots strutting their stuff in front of enthusiastic children, geeky engineers and pretty much everyone else who comes through the door.
I personally found most fascinating the story of a researcher who developed a robot to help autistic children learn to interact with people. The very plain robot, with minimal and simple features and expressions, was comprehensible enough that the kids felt comfortable playing with it. Using both pre-programmed and remote controlled actions, it would interact with them.
As the children became more familiar with it, they learned how to identify emotions like happy and sad, because its displays were simple and obvious, unlike the complex range of emotions people show.
The same researcher wondered if it was possible to duplicate the effect with people. Who have simple, plain faces but can put on highly recognisable expressions? You know who.
Enlisting the help of a mime, he was able to start getting the children to interact with a real person. The mime at first used only simple reactions and expressions, but could then sequentially alter its makeup to look more complex and ‘human’, building the trust and ability of the children to deal with social situations.
What a great story! And now, a mime fight, by the appropriately titled ‘Art vs Science’.