Rosalind Picard teaching robots how to feel

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Rosalind Picard of MIT's Affective Computing Research Group
Rosalind Picard of MIT’s Affective Computing Research Group

In 2002, The Flaming Lips released the song “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21,” a sci-fi fantasy about a robot learning to duplicate human emotions. But computer scientists like Rosalind Picard are making that fantasy closer to a reality than you might think.

She is the founder of the Affective Computing Research Group at MIT, and her 1995 paper “Affective Computing” is credited with pioneering the study of emotional intelligence in robotics.

“What people I think need to realize,” Picard told Ramona in her rdigitaLIFE interview, ” is that emotional intelligence is essential for any technology that is interacting with a human in a way that purports to be intelligent.”

As an example, she points to Clippy, the uppity, optimistic paper clip that giddily offered advice to Microsoft Office users. It was an intelligent piece of software that could effectively detect what you were trying to create, but “was completely impoverished at knowing how you were feeling about the interaction.”

Much in the way that Matt Gray explained how the scripts of Shakespeare and Beckett could be translated to code, so, too, can the ability for a computer to display empathy.

Picard says its possible to program robots to “look sorry if it’s done something wrong. It needs to maybe share your joy and share some of your sorrow, in terms of outward appearance.”

But are algorithms actually true emotions? When we, as humans, feel jealousy, isn’t that more than a math equation?

Therein lies the difference between humans and robots – the experiential elements of emotion.

“I don’t know if robots will ever have feelings the way that we do,” says Picard. “I don’t see how that could happen right now.

“But it doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.”

Watch Rosalind Picard’s interview, “Affective Computing,” below.



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