Laugh or Taunt: To Seduce Us, Robots Learn to Laugh

How to make communication between humans and robots more natural? Working on laughter, researchers say. And it’s far from easy.

Polite laughter, chuckles, raucous laughter… we could imagine 50 shades of laughter that human beings have been able to develop. Now it’s up to artificial intelligence. This is one of the works of Kyoto University, which hopes to make humanoid robots more empathetic, just to make them laugh.

In a study published on the Frontiers website, researcher Koji Inoue explains that he undertook to teach the art of colloquial laughter, which is to laugh the right way at the right time. The stakes are high, as humanoid robots will only be tolerated and truly accepted if they leave the famous “weird valley”.

This concept, theorized by another Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori, argues that the more human-like a robot is, the more its imperfections seem disturbing or even monstrous to us. So, giggling at the wrong moment will definitely not help a robot to be accepted.

So the Kyoto University team set up a series of speed-dating sessions between students and a robot named Erika, so that the artificial intelligence could store the most data on laughter, whether natural or slightly forced.

“Our biggest challenge in this work was to identify real cases of shared laughter, which is not easy because, as you know, most laughter is not really shared at all,” explained Koji Inoue of the Guardian.

After this work, the team tested Erika’s new sense of humor through four dialogues, which were then broadcast to 130 volunteers. Compared to the same scenes without laughter, the scenes were rated as more expressive, more natural.

In addition to laughter, robotics researchers are also working on the transmission of emotions. And this happens through artificial intelligence, as well as through the subtlety of the human facial expression. In this sense, the ultra-realistic robot Ameca, once again created by a Japanese team, reaches an amazing degree of sophistication.

To lessen, always a little more, the depth of this agonizing valley of the strange…

Thomas Le Roy BFM Business journalist

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