Navy Studies Robots with Social Skills

Image via the Office of Naval ResearchImage via the Office of Naval Research

Can a robot read books and learn table manners and how to act in police company?

A team from the Office of Naval Research is partnering with the Georgia Institute of Technology to learn just that. According to an ONR release, Georgia Tech researchers have created an artificial intelligence software program called Quixote that can teach robots to read and how to act properly in a variety of social situations.

What’s the defense angle? In the future, officials say, robots could participate in military operations including humanitarian and rescue operations, which involve people skills as well as operational competence.

“For years, researchers have debated how to teach robots to act in ways that are appropriate, non-intrusive and trustworthy,” ONR program manager Marc Steinberg, who oversees the Quixote research for the lab, said in a statement. “One important question is how to explain complex concepts such as policies, values or ethics to robots. Humans are really good at using narrative stories to make sense of the world and communicate to other people. This could one day be an effective way to interact with robots.”

For now, scientists are using Quixote to guide various simulations involving artificial intelligence, teaching appropriate human behavior in a variety of situations. For example, “value alignment” from Quixote might help a robot know to wait patiently in line to pick up a pharmacy prescription, instead of cutting the line or robbing the pharmacy, according to the release.

“Within a decade, there will be more robots in society, rubbing elbows with us,” Dr. Mark Riedl, director of Georgia Tech’s Entertainment Intelligence Lab, said in the release. “Social conventions grease the wheels of society, and robots will need to understand the nuances of how humans do things.”

Perhaps one day, robots will be teaching recruits at boot camp.

About the Author

Hope Hodge Seck
Hope Hodge Seck is a reporter at Military.com. She can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.