A robot has learned a handful of simple words in the same general way that infants do: by listening to the speech, and feedback, of human adults.
Human teachers—who ran the gamut in terms of age, occupation, and experience with kids—worked with a humanoid, toddler-sized robot, describing the colors and shapes on a toy block, as seen in the video above and described in a new study in PLoS ONE. The robot babbled back, learning which combinations of sounds are correct based both on what it had heard and on how the human responded, much like babies do when learning to speak. Giving the robot a childlike form, the researchers suggest, let people interact with it more like they would an actual baby, helping it better model language learning than having people talk to a screen or a box.
It’s pretty cool that the robots could pick up words from human-like interactions. But it’s important to keep in mind that we can only build robots to imitate what it looks like when babies learn, because we don’t know exactly what’s going on in babies’ brains when they learn language—and we certainly don’t understand it well enough to build a program that would work just the same way.
[via Wired Science]
What’s the News: Parrots, those irrepressible mimics of the animal world, are some of the few creatures known to have individual names: each bird has its own signature call that others use when addressing it and that the bird uses itself in avian “conversation.” Scientists have long wondered where these calls come from. Now, a new study of wild parrots shows that even before chicks can “talk,” their parents have provided them with a moniker, which they will tweak and then use throughout their lives.