Robots are becoming more capable of performing tasks like humans — we’re even sending them to assist astronauts in space — but when it comes to speaking like humans, that’s a major challenge.
We don’t think much about it since it’s such a native skill, but learning the nuances of human speech is no easy feat. Think of Siri: you may be able to ask her to check the weather, but having a casual conversation is impossible.
So researchers at Georgia Tech are working to develop software that would give robots the ability to hold a conversation, IEEE Spectrum first reported. The researchers are developing artificial intelligence to allow a robot named Simon converse in a more fluid matter.
That means keeping up when people abruptly change a conversation topic or interrupt each other. It also just means sounding less stiff and talking with more cadence.
The Georgia Tech researchers, Chrystal Chao and Andrea Thomaz, have developed a model using engineering software called CADENCE that allows Simon to understand the concept of taking turns when speaking.
Simon was given two speech patterns: active and passive.
For the active speech pattern, Simon exhibits an extroverted personality who talks at length and at a louder volume. Simon was also more likely to talk over others.
When set on the passive speech pattern, Simon spoke less and allowed humans to interject more often.
“We expect that when the robot is more active and takes more turns, it will be perceived as more extroverted and socially engaging,” Chao told IEEE Spectrum. “When it’s extremely active, the robot actually acts very egocentric, like it doesn’t care at all that the speaking partner is there and is less engaging.”
Finding an appropriate balance between active and passive, as well as making advancements in body language to truly mimic how people converse, is necessary for Simon to talk with the same cadence as C-3PO did with Luke.
Watch Simon talk in active and passive mode: