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Making Robots Laugh
Joyce L. Gioia, CMC, CSP --  The Herman Group Joyce L. Gioia, CMC, CSP -- The Herman Group
Austin, TX
Wednesday, October 12, 2022


The Herman Trend Alert

October 12, 2022

Making Robots Laugh

Until I started researching this topic, I had never considered the difficulty that it might be to get robots to laugh in the appropriate places. Right now, I am in Dubai to speak at the Dubai Future Forum. Here in this future-thinking city, at the Museum of the Future, resides a robot named Annika. No, unfortunately, Annika does not laugh, although because of the things she is programmed to say, she is funny. It is only recently---and with great effort---that researchers have been able to get any of their robots to laugh.

Robots Laughing in Response to People

A recent study, published in the journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI, reports that researchers designed a new AI system to detect humans' laughter, decide whether to giggle in response, and then choose the type of laugh that's appropriate for the context. It is hoped that this new ability will make interactions between people and robots more engaging in our progressively automated world.

Laughter should be Fundamental

The study author, Divesh Lala, a researcher who studies conversational robots at Kyoto University in Japan, hopes he can foster the idea that laughter should be a critical talent of any conversational robot. He believes that shared laughter is one way to realize this goal.

Humanoid Robots and Conversation

In the past 10 years, we have seen some very realistic AI-powered robots, including Annika and Sophia (about which I have written previously). They can hold real conversations, answering questions posed to them. Though Sophia is much more adept at holding a conversation than Annika, both speak relatively easily with people. However, the new robot or likely the new software takes their talents to the next level.

Sophia is Quite Amazing

Created by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics in 2016, the captivating Sophia has served as an ambassador for the United Nations and spoken at conferences around the world. When she spoke at South X SouthWest in Austin she famously (or infamously) said she will "destroy humans."

Tesla's New Robot

Elon Musk will also soon enter the robot industry with the Tesla Optimus to be previewed on September 30. Musk believes that soon robots will mow lawns, care for the elderly, and serve as friends---and perhaps even sex partners.

A Booming Product Line without a Sense of Humor

As an industry, robotics is way ahead of where it was even 5 years ago. And in spite of some impressive breakthroughs, scientists have struggled to make robots laugh---a crucial step that some experts feel could foster a genuine, empathetic relationship between humans and humanoids.

Shared Laughter

Working with their own android robot named ERICA, Lala's lab is currently working on adding the AI shared-laughter system. Previous work has mostly been focused on designing robots that could detect people's laughter, but Lala wanted the robot to be responsive.

How the Shared Laughter System Works

When a person laughs in ERICA's presence, it triggers the neural networks. Then, a series of models classifies the data decides whether to chuckle, and if so, the AI chooses the type of laugh that is most appropriate in response. In shared laughter, the robot is just attempting to reproduce what an empathetic human would do.

Different Kinds of Laughter

More specifically, the system can distinguish between a "social" or "mirthful" laugh, categories based on previous studies that have classified our chuckles. Social laughs fill silence rather than expressing genuine delight, while we use the mirthful variety in response to something genuinely funny.

Why this Work Matters

This recent work is just the newest try to make robots appear to be more empathetic and to help them form meaningful relationships with humans. Talking robots could one day soon care for our aging parents and follow us around our homes, not to mention handling more intimate applications. Though computers can only offer superficial empathy, for an Alzheimer's patient, even pretend caring can make a difference. Truly empathetic robots are decades away.

The Future of Laughing Robots

What's ahead is laughing about something because the robots think it's funny. In other words, the AI would actually appreciate the humor. This AI field is called "natural language processing;" it involves understanding how humans write and speak and it sems to be more challenging than they originally thought. Of course, in the far future, we may expect to see robots who can do stand-up comedy.

Next Week's Herman Trend Alert: Bounties and Sabbaticals: Back to the Future

On my way to Dubai, I stopped off in New York City to spend the afternoon with my daughter who lives in Brooklyn. To her, one of her employer's important perks is Adobe's sabbatical program. These benefits really do work to retain talent. In next week's Alert, I will explore this and other highly valued bonuses which are coming back.

Special thanks to Molly Glick writing for Inverse.com. To read the main article from which I drew this Alert, visit https://www.inverse.com/innovation/laughing-robots-ai



Hosted by the Association of Professional Futurists and the Dubai Futures Foundation, the event scheduled December 5 and 6 will convene the world's top professional futurists to anticipate challenges, imagine opportunities, share foresight, and shape the future. To register for the in-person or virtual event, visit APF.org and click on the new website banner.



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News Media Interview Contact
Name: Joyce L. Gioia, CMC, CSP
Title: Certified Speaking Professional and Management Consultant
Group: The Herman Group
Dateline: Austin, TX United States
Direct Phone: 336-210-3548
Main Phone: 800-227-3566
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