Robots made to think | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 12, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 12, 2011

Robots made to think


Japanese robot Hiro can "think" how best to solve a problem. Photo: AFP

Robots that learn from experience and can solve novel problems -- just like humans -- sound like science fiction.
But a Japanese researcher is working on making them science fact, with machines that can teach themselves to perform tasks they have not been programmed to do, using objects they have never seen before.
Osamu Hasegawa, associate professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, has developed a system, for the first time, that allows robots to look around their environment and do research on the Internet, enabling them to "think" how best to solve a problem.
"Most existing robots are good at processing and performing the tasks they are pre-programmed to do, but they know little about the 'real world' where we humans live," he told AFP.
"So our project is an attempt to build a bridge between robots and that real world," he said.
The Self-Organizing Incremental Neural Network, or "SOINN", is an algorithm that allows robots to use their knowledge -- what they already know -- to infer how to complete tasks they have been told to do.
SOINN examines the environment to gather the data it needs to organise the information it has been given into a coherent set of instructions.
In a laboratory demonstration, when asked to serve water, a SOINN-powered machine begins to break down the task into a series of skills that it has been taught: holding a cup, holding a bottle, pouring water from a bottle, placing a cup down.
Without special programmes for water-serving, the robot works out the order of the actions required to complete the task.
The SOINN machine asks for help when facing a task beyond its ability and crucially, stores the information it learns for use in a future task.
It can also search web for knowledge and, like humans, the system can also filter out irrelevant results it finds on the web.
Hasegawa hopes SOINN might one day be put to practical use. But, cautions the professor, there are reasons to be careful about robots that can learn.
"Technology is advancing at an enormous speed," he said. "We are hoping that a variety of people will discuss this technology, when to use it, when not to use it.

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