Humans may soon be able to talk to computers and robots the same way they talk to their friends, scientists say.
A new programme from the US Defence Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) aims to get computers to express themselves more like humans by allowing them to use spoken language, facial expressions and gestures to communicate.
“Today we view computers as tools to be activated by a few clicks or keywords, in large part because we are separated by a language barrier,” said Paul Cohen, DARPA’s Communicating with Computers (CwC) programme manager.
“The goal of CwC is to bridge that barrier, and in the process encourage the development of new problem-solving technologies,” Cohen said.
One of the problem-solving technologies that CwC could help further is the computer-based modelling used in cancer research.
Computers previously developed by DARPA are already tasked with creating models of the complicated molecular processes that cause cells to become cancerous.
But while these computers can churn out models quickly, they are not so adept at judging if the models are actually plausible and worthy of further research.
If the computers could somehow seek the opinions of flesh-and-blood biologists, the work they do would likely be more useful for cancer researchers.
To get computers up to the task of communicating with people, CwC researchers have devised several tasks that require computers and humans to work together toward a common goal, ‘Live Science’ reported.
One of the tasks, known as “collaborative composition,” involves storytelling. In this exercise, humans and computers take turns contributing sentences until they have composed a short story.
“This is a parlor game for humans, but a tremendous challenge for computers,” Cohen said.
“To do it well, the machine must keep track of the ideas in the story, then generate an idea about how to extend the story and express this idea in language,” Cohen added.
Another assignment that the CwC is planning is known as “block world,” which would require humans and computers to communicate to build structures out of toy blocks. But neither humans nor computers will be told what to build.
Instead, they’ll have to work together to make a structure that can stand up of its own accord.
Better communications technologies could help robot operators use natural language to describe missions and give directions to the machines they operate both before and during operations.
CwC could also make it possible for robots to request advice or information from humans when they get into sticky situations.