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Sunday, June 30, 2002

Scientists give language lessons to robots
By Robert S. Boyd
Mercury News Washington Bureau
Published Sun, Jun. 23, 2002
"I hope a year from now I can tell it: 'Look out for that trash can' or 'Let's go through that door.' I don't want to be holding the robot's hand,'' he said.

In five years, Oates added, "I want to be able to say things like, 'Could you go into the room we were just in and bring me the red ball?' If the robot can do that, I'll declare it a success. It's a very ambitious but not unreasonable goal.''
Typical session

The little robot was equipped with eyes (a video camera), ears (a microphone), a voice box and a computer program able to recognize and pronounce human words. Steels pre-programmed AIBO to recognize a few spoken words like "look. . . listen. . . what is it? . . . good . . . yes. . . no.''

In a report published on the Internet, Steels described a typical learning session: On a table in front of AIBO are three objects -- a red ball, a yellow puppet called Smiley and a toy dog called Poo-chi. AIBO already knows the names of Smiley and Poo-chi, but not the word "ball.'' The human teacher points to the ball and speaks:

Human: Look. Ball

AIBO: Ball?

Human: Yes.

Human: What is it?

AIBO: Smiley.

Human: No, listen. Ball.

AIBO: Ball?

Human: Yes.

Human: Is it Smiley?

AIBO: No, ball.

Human: Good.

To accomplish this feat, the robot had to connect two very different electronic patterns -- one from the sound waves coming into his "ears'' and the other from the light waves coming into its "eyes'' -- and form the concept, "ball.''
"We have demonstrated that a robot can learn the meanings of words,'' summed up Paul Cohen, a computer scientist and colleague of Oates at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.