Robot designers are trying little by little to integrate them into our daily lives. Long capable of performing tasks automatically, they can now obey specific orders. But even though connected objects can form sentences and respond to requests, those skills are often limited to highly specific situations.

Robots talk to one another

Several artificial intelligence researchers are now working on inter-robot language. They want to make it possible for robots to communicate with one another to perform cooperative tasks. It hasn’t been a total success yet, as the blog OpenAI explains. Researchers in the AI lab gave cooperative objectives to 2D agents that would require communication. The agents (similar to robots) tried different sounds and chose ones that allowed them to understand each other, and thus to complete their task. These sounds were incomprehensible to the experiment’s conductors. 

The same finding was made by Facebook’s AI lab, according to an article in The Independent. After trying to make two AIs discuss in English, the experiment’s managers called a halt, noticing that they were starting to invent their own language.

Chatbots

What to make of the robot-human language? Before addressing the question of oral language, the researchers first focused on writing. The current result of their research is now symbolized by popular chatbots. According to the company the social client, more than 33,000 chatbots have sprung up on Messenger between April 2016 and January 2017, mainly in order to respond to written questions from individuals. Arte explains that these services first identify the different elements of the question that determine its general shape, then selects the right response from a database. In practice, they’re almost perfect at replicating human beings for simple requests. 

To handle more complex requests, chatbots can utilize deep-learning, a technology that may allow machines to learn using “artificial neural networks,” as Le Monde explains. This innovation has, for example, led to a program writing a unique chapter of Harry Potter.

Reproducing the human voice

But communicating in writing is a lot different from talking. The next step after text generation, for scientists, is to give a robot the ability to speak orally with a human being. For the moment, no robot can talk in a totally fluid manner with a human being, despite some interesting attempts. Meanwhile, Japanese scientists from Kagawa University are already working on humanization of robot voices. An article in Ikinamo describes their experiment: air is fired into a reproduction of a human vocal pipe. Then it makes the vocal cords vibrate, while the silicon “mouth,” “tongue,” and “nose” modulate to output a specific sound. Last, sounds identical to human sounds are produced, and words are assembled.

The experiment is one of autonomous learning through sound interpretation. Professor Sadawa, the director, explains that “even if (the robot) hears a sound it doesn’t know, it can guess the necessary movements to make the sound.”

In the end, no scientist has yet build a modern-day C3PO. But they’re getting closer, with robots now able to generate text and to adapt their language to human reactions.