NLUs featured in the New Scientist magazine

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I recently attended (and presented at) the HRI’14 conference in Bielefeld which exhibited lots of the latest and greatest developments in the field of HRI from across the world. HRI is a highly selective conference (23% acceptance rate or so), and while getting a full paper in the conference seems to have some more emphasis and weight in the US than in Europe, it’s always a good venue to meet new people and talk about the interesting research that is going on.

It turns out that this year there was a New Scientist reporter, Paul Marks, attending and keeping a close eye on the presentations and he’s written a nice article about some of the little tricks that we roboticists can use to make our robots that little bit more life-like. He draws upon some of the work that was presented by Sean AndristAjung MoonAnca Dragan on robot gaze, and also the work that I published/presented on NLUs, where I found that peoples’ interpretations of NLUs is heavily guided by the context in which they are used.

Essentially what I found was that if a robot uses the same NLU in a variety of different situations, people use the cues from within the context to help direct their interpretation of what the NLU actually meant. Moreover, if the robot were to use a variety of different NLUs in a single given context, people interpret these different NLUs in a similar way. To put it plainly, it would seem that people are less sensitive to the properties of the NLUs themselves, and “build a picture” of what an NLU means based upon how it has been used. This has a useful “cheap and dirty” implication for the robot designer: if you know when the robot needs to make a utterance/NLU, you don’t necessarily have to make an NLU that is specifically tailored to the specific context. You might well be able to get away with making any old NLU, being safe in the knowledge that the human is more likely to utilise cues from the situation to guide their interpretation, rather than specific acoustic cues inherent to the NLU. This is of course not a universal truth, but I propose that this is a reasonable rule of thumb to use during basic HRI… However, I might change my view on this in the future with further experimentation… 😉

Anyway, it’s an interesting little read and well worth the 5 minutes if you have them spare…

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