Robot is able to detect when you’re laughing and tries to match your mood.

Last Wednesday, researchers from Kyoto University held a demonstration of their latest project. The team, headed by informatics professor Koji Inoue, has built a humanoid conversation robot that not only talks, but laughs too.

The robot doesn’t necessarily have a sense of humor of its own. Instead, the researchers started by feeding it 82 sample conversations between real people, through which the A.I. became capable of recognizing and replicating laughter. So now when a human is talking with the robot and laughs, the robot will laugh too, and even try to match the volume and intensity of the human’s laughter.

▼ A video demonstration of the Kyoto University team’s laughing robot

“Haha, that’s nice!” the robot says in the video above, along with phrases like “That’s right, isn’t it?”, “Oh, is that so?”, and “That’s wonderful.”

In many ways, it’s an impressive technological achievement. At the same time, the robot’s stony stare and some rigid movement make the atmosphere less than conducive to a friendly chat, in the opinion of Twitter commenters who’ve reacted with:

“There’s something very scary about it.”
“The voice is nice, but the visuals…”
“Still stuck in the uncanny valley, huh?”
“Faked empathy and kindness are terrifying.”

So why make a robot that’s capable of laughing in the first place? According to the researchers, the impetus for that design element is Japan’s aging population. As life expectancy gets longer, the birth rate lower, and families smaller, there’s an increased chance of senior citizens spending more time alone. It’s the researchers’ hope that a robot that can not only carry on a conversation, but also recognize and react to a person’s emotional state, can be a source of comfort and mental stimulation.

As for the creepiness level, the video is edited in such a way that we don’t hear what the human demonstrator is saying between the robot’s laughs, which sort of makes it look like the robot is softly chuckling to itself. It’s possible that it’s less unnerving for the person who’s talking to the robot and experiencing more of a back-and-forth conversation as they and the machine alternate speaking. Still, with the next step of the project being to monitor what psychological effects talking with the laughing robot has for humans, the Kyoto University team might want to look into softening up the robot’s facial expressions to reduce the potential for a conversation to cause fear and panic.

Source: NHK News Web via Jin, Twitter/@nhk_news (1, 2)
Top image: Pakutaso (edited by SoraNews24)
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