With robots being used in war with frightening regularity now, the newly developed machines, a new breed of robot promises to close the growing rift between humans and machines resulting from natural mistrust in change and the unknown combined with fear over their military applications and potential hostility. Nao hopes to make relations between robots and humans more relaxed and even mimic human emotions.
Nao, developed by Aldebaran Robotics, scans its environment with several cameras and “memorizes” different interactions and objects. Certain objects, such as a rubber duck (as shown in Aldebaran’s expose video) could be recognized by Nao units and then its neural circuits could indicate what should be done with such an object. But the interactions extend even to human expressions. Nao can recognize facial features and even remember whether or not certain actions were good or bad for it.
According to Aldebaran, Nao’s facial recognition technology means it can look at different people and ascertain who they are. They claim it can in essence recognize people based on their appearance. And since it can also recognize “good” and “bad” things to happen in its environment, it can then recognize whether or not different people consistently do things that either make it happy or sad. In this way, it can ascertain whether or not certain humans are “friends” or “enemies” based on previous interactions with them. Nao will recognize the facial features of different people and react with happiness, fear, sadness, or anger when they are around. Of course the emotions themselves are not really comparable to human emotion, but they are based on different interactions.
But the capabilities of the robot go far beyond that, according to Aldebaran. The Nao also has been created to recognize emotions based on nonverbal cues. By studying different aspects of a human’s posture, facial features, distance, speed of movement, and other factors it even attempts to make judgments on the emotional state of the people it is interacting with. Nao will inevitably learn to avoid angry people, comfort sad people, and feel relatively safe around happy people. The Nao robot hopes to trip the rift between humans and robots by meeting humans on their own terms in a very emotional way. But will this be accepted or resisted by consumers already anxious about a job market being flooded with more robots?
There is no doubt that as robots get more advanced, the novelty of their presence will soon wear off and a whole new world of issues will have to be taken into consideration. With humans no longer performing many labor based jobs, there will be a need to restructure economies and perhaps even draft up a new bill of rights. And who knows? If one of Nao’s future incarnations actually begins to feel emotion in ways comparable to the human experience, perhaps a few additions will have to be made to international laws protecting robots. In the mean time, robots are not generally created to be like biological organisms, instead merely being automatons that perform simple tasks. The Nao raises some serious questions about whether or not we are prepared for the next generation of the industrial revolution.