By 24 February 2014 | Categories: news


50 years ago, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov predicted that by 2014 robots will be common but not really clever. True, but there are a few darn smart ones around.

1. Watch and learn

A group of researchers at Cornell University trained robots to identify human movements during simple household tasks. The robots, fitted with 3D cameras, compiled a library of actions and associated them with common household objects in different contexts. When faced with a new situation, they could draw on their learnt know-how to predict what was most likely to be the human’s next move. In a demo, one ‘bot helpfully opened the fridge, while another poured a beverage into a mug.

2. Hands-free Kit(t)

Google has been testing self-drive cars on the roads of San Francisco since 2011. And its had remarkably good results: only one accident was recorded over the test period, which, by the way, was caused by a human driver bumping into the Google car. Results further showed that compared to human drivers, the computer car was better at maintaining a safe following distance and braked and accelerated more smoothly.

3. Tech talk

In 2011, Australian scientists reported that they have taught robots to ‘talk’ about where they are. The robot language consists of phone-tone beeps, which were translated into two-letter syllables that humans could understand. When a robot was placed in a new spot, it would randomly pair two syllables to describe its position and other robots then learnt the words. Later the robots could describe their positions relative to known spots using the words of their newly learnt language.

4. A(I) student

Japanese engineers are working on a robot that’s clever enough to pass the University of Tokyo’s notoriously difficult entrance exam. They’re training the ‘bot to answer multiple choice questions on world history and physics and solve math problems and hope to progress to essay-type questions later. Early results show that the robot has a real knack for history questions, but its language processing needs work. The researchers hope that their student will be able to pass the university exam by 2021.

5. Quiz master

In 2011, IBM’s clever computer Watson outsmarted two human quiz champions on the show Jeopardy! Although it made a few blunders over the course of the show, its ability to sift through massive amounts of information gave it the edge in the end. Researchers say that the feat shows that robots may prove useful in data mining applications. [LP]

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