The first spark of empathy was lit in the robots

Have you always wanted someone to know exactly what you will be doing next? Someone who will pay attention, observe, and instantaneously do what needs to be done? Well, we don’t know if all humans have the superpower of empathy but now robots will live up to your expectations.

Yes, you read that right. For the first time in history, a machine will be able to predict the actions of a human being simply by observing. The next time someone yells “are you a robot?” as an insult, you can smile and say “yes! Absolutely!” because robots will soon become master empaths. They will be able to walk in your shoes.

Do robots have a mind of their own?

Researchers at Columbia University in New York conducted a simple experiment to prove the point. The team was led by Hod Lipson and the study, along with the results, was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

The study indicates that robots might, theoretically speaking, have a mind. The ability to anticipate one’s actions by putting yourself in another’s shoes is innately human but it is quite possible that robots can possess that ability as well.

This could lead to ground-breaking revelations in the near future. If robots understand actions, the gap between machines and man will become narrower. There will be a flow of effective communication that holds a million possibilities.

What did the robots do?

The scientists at Columbia University made a robot look for green circles and move towards them. Sounds simple? The catch was that sometimes the green circle was hidden by a red cardboard box. What happened in most cases was that the robot would start looking for another green circle or get stuck at the point.

This scene was observed by a fellow robot from a perspective that showed all the green circles clearly. The robot spent two hours observing the first robot and could anticipate its objective.

What were the takeaways?

Cristina Becchio, a scientist at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, broke down this absurd behaviour. According to her, the observant robot was equipped with artificial intelligence and was able to predict the partner robot’s behaviour simply by paying attention.

It is somewhat similar to most human interactions, and that between the machines, as it happened without exchanging any information

It is true that cooperation between machines had been achieved erstwhile by programming their behaviour a priori. The significant development lies in the fact that the robots or collaborative robots perform much more complex tasks than the green circle experiment but they never predict action.

They have the power of reacting to the behaviour of others because of AI, Becchio explained.

But in the Columbia University study, the robot learned all by itself by observing the difficulties of the other automation.

The communication did not require words, symbols, or other types of instructions. Antonio Frisoli, professor of Robotics at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, noted that the experiment suggested a “primitive form of empathy between two robots”.

The absence of verbal communication was bridged through a visual analysis of the other’s behaviour.

Some ethical concerns

The bright side of this new study is that if robots are capable of predicting behaviour without the need for instructions, they could assist disabled people in the future. They would also be of great help in a factory setup or during a catastrophe. But, such scientific advancements always beckon serious ethical questions. As Frisoli rightly pointed out, “to what extent must a robot be able to make autonomous decisions based on its prediction?”

What if a robot, in anticipating the thought of a person, is able to manipulate him? These are areas that need more work for a sound Robo-ethical and philosophical type to be developed in the future.

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