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UW CSE’s “Morphy” makes the NY Times

“In a lab at the University of Washington, Morphy, a pint-size robot, catches the eye of an infant girl and turns to look at a toy.

“No luck; the girl does not follow its gaze, as she would a human’s.

“In a video the researchers made of the experiment, the girl next sees the robot “waving” to an adult. Now she’s interested; the sight of the machine interacting registers it as a social being in the young brain. She begins to track what the robot is looking at, to the right, the left, down. The machine has elicited what scientists call gaze-following, an essential first step of social exchange.

“‘Before they have language, infants pay attention to what I call informational hotspots,’ where their mother or father is looking, said Andrew N. Meltzoff, a psychologist who is co-director of university’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. This, he said, is how learning begins …

“‘It turns out that making a robot more closely resemble a human doesn’t get you better social interactions,’ said Terrence J. Sejnowski, a neuroscientist at University of California, San Diego. The more humanlike machines look, the more creepy they can seem.

“The machine’s behavior is what matters, Dr. Sejnowski said. And very subtle elements can make a big difference.”

Read the full article here.  Research web page here.

July 10, 2010