Scientists Have Built a 'Social' Robot With a Personality

NTU Singapore's Professor Nadia Thalmann, right, shakes hands with her humanoid lookalike Nadine. NTU Singapore

Tesla founder Elon Musk predicted in 2014 that the development of artificial intelligence could lead to killer robots programmed to delete humanity as if we were so much spam. His fears came a step closer to reality on Tuesday, when scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore announced they've built a robot with the emotional intelligence it could one day use to take over the world.

The humanoid named Nadine can recognize people she has previously met, and recall their names and previous conversations, say the NTU researchers.

As a test of her abilities, Nadine, who is powered by technology similar to that which runs Apple's iPhone assistant Siri, is working as a receptionist at the NTU. When a guest comes to the university, Nadine greets them with a firm handshake before engaging in flowing conversation. But, like a human, Nadine has a personality and her mood can sour depending on what you say to her.

The humanoid's look is modeled on that of Nadia Thalmann, the director of the Institute for Media Innovation and a lead developer. Thalman and the other NTU researchers see a future where social humanoids are in our offices and our homes, able to carry out complex tasks whilst displaying the same warmth and breadth of emotions as humans.

"Robotics technologies have advanced significantly over the past few decades and are already being used in manufacturing and logistics," Thalmann said in a press release, adding that, for the past four years, the NTU team has been working "to transform a virtual human, from within a computer, into a physical being that is able to observe and interact with other humans."

The developers are hoping that Nadine's skills will develop beyond serene greetings and pleasant but forgettable small talk. They think similar technology can be used to provide both companionship and useful aid to the young and elderly.

"As countries worldwide face challenges of an aging population, social robots can be one solution to address the shrinking workforce, become personal companions for children and the elderly at home, and even serve as a platform for healthcare services in future," said Thalmann. "This is somewhat like a real companion that is always with you and conscious of what is happening."