Should we look a robot in the eye when talking to it?

“Since the 2000s, the occasions for these machines to meet and approach men and women, while respecting their safety and privacy, have become more and more frequent. It is therefore urgent to be concerned with the social dimension of robots, if we want to manage to interact effectively with them ”, warns Raja Chatila, researcher at the Institute of Intelligent Systems and Robotics (Isir). Will we have to teach politeness to pet robots or other “artificial assistants”? And learn from our side to interact with them? “If a robot starts chatting with a person and someone else calls out, the robot might be tempted to respond; except that if it cuts a conversation in progress, it will make the dialogue ineffective ”, takes Rodolphe Gelin, researcher at SoftBank Robotics, as an example. Robotics specialists must therefore now take into account the implicit codes of the conversation and succeed in modeling them in the machine. Who am I talking to ? What is grabbing my attention? “We will have to integrate the dimension of the gaze to see if the robot with which you are discussing is staring at your eyes, your body or an object in its environment,” explains Gérard Bailly, research director at the CNRS. The gaze is a fundamental component of the theory of mind, which designates the ability of an individual to put himself in another’s shoes. It becomes essential to embed it in our robots. ”

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Exchange with the gaze

To achieve this, his team at the Gipsa-Lab in Grenoble has been working for ten years on Nina, who has large eyes and eyelids, driven by four motors and housing cameras. The goal is to make this humanoid capable of following and exchanging with the gaze, as it already does with speech. But Nina isn’t there yet. To make it progress, researchers therefore regularly put themselves “in its place”, by wearing a virtual reality headset which allows them to see through the eyes of the robot and to control its gaze. When the researcher blinks, so does Nina. The goal is to make him learn in an immersive way how and what to watch, as a human would, by multiplying face-to-face meetings with different people. The next step will be to give Nina loose eyebrows, to further enhance the expression of her eyes.

This robot is not the only one to play with gaze. Jaguar Land Rover introduced a prototype autonomous car in 2018 with artificial eyes to establish contact with pedestrians and warn them that it has seen them. Looking her in the eye, to confirm that we saw her in our turn, would therefore be the least of courtesies.

The robot Nina uses the gaze to better interact with humans.

Will living with robots make us rude?

The risk exists. Because to address connected speakers, no need to please or thank you. “ OK Google, the weather in Lille ”,“ Alexa, answer the call ”: For the message to be understood, it is better to speak loud, simple and concise.

We are therefore far from courtesy! So far that American consumers, worried about the impact of these uses on their children who, in fact, learn politeness at school, have raised complaints with speaker manufacturers.

How to ask their offspring to distinguish between speaking “bad” to a machine and “good” to a human? To prevent this risk, Amazon and Google developed options in 2018 (available only in the United States, for now) that greet politely requests made to speakers with a thank you in return. What about the robots that will surround us? How should you talk to them? Will they demand a “please” from us before they do?…

According to Science & Vie Questions – Answers n ° 39

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