This Robot Predicts When You’ll Smile—Then Grins Back Right on Cue

From robotaxis to robo-servers that bring you food and drinks, autonomous robots are increasingly entering our lives.

By Shelly Fan at Singularity Hub: Smiling can turn strangers into the dearest of friends. It spurs meet-cute Hollywood plots, repairs broken relationships, and is inextricably linked to fuzzy, warm feelings of joy.

At least for people. For robots, their attempts at genuine smiles often fall into the uncanny valley—close enough to resemble a human, but causing a touch of unease. Logically, you know what they’re trying to do. But gut feelings tell you something’s not right.

It may be because of timing. Robots are trained to mimic the facial expression of a smile. But they don’t know when to turn the grin on. When humans connect, we genuinely smile in tandem without any conscious planning. Robots take time to analyze a person’s facial expressions to reproduce a grin. To a human, even milliseconds of delay raises hair on the back of the neck—like a horror movie, something feels manipulative and wrong.

Last week, a team at Columbia University showed off an algorithm that teaches robots to share a smile with their human operators. The AI analyzes slight facial changes to predict its operators’ expressions about 800 milliseconds before they happen—just enough time for the robot to grin back.

The team trained a soft robotic humanoid face called Emo to anticipate and match the expressions of its human companion. With a silicone face tinted in blue, Emo looks like a 60s science fiction alien. But it readily grinned along with its human partner on the same “emotional” wavelength.

More here.