NYTimes describes advances in robots technology and artificial intelligence. New robots are recognizing their environment, like people’s faces, voices and objects. They are trained to mimic human responses to environmental conditions.

It’s not exactly real artificial intelligence, but it shows us how far robot technology has advanced.

Today’s humanoids are not the sophisticated machines we might have expected by now, which just shows how complicated a task it was that scientists embarked on 15 years ago when they began working on a robot that could think.

Sociable robots come equipped with the very abilities that humans have evolved to ease our interactions with one another: eye contact, gaze direction, turn-taking, shared attention. They are programmed to learn the way humans learn, by starting with a core of basic drives and abilities and adding to them as their physical and social experiences accrue. People respond to the robots’ social cues almost without thinking, and as a result the robots give the impression of being somehow, improbably, alive.

The Robots are exhibiting a form of primitive complex adaptation.

The robots have to be programmed to think like an animal. They need an internal rule mechanism. They recognize “tags” or labels. This includes visual and audio cues, like voices, faces, and eyes. Create a mechanism to ID tags is difficult. They’ve managed to come a long way since they first got robots to recognize the difference between red and green squares and circles.

Once robots recognize tags, they can learn from a changing environment. They are usually programmed with IF/THEN Rules. IF (see x tag) THEN (do y). Right now, I believe that they just program the robot to do a specific list of conditions and responses, but beyond that list the robot does nothing.

The trick is to get simultaneously active rules. This means that the robot will constantly “learn” from its environment the way animals do. It can be placed in a new environment and see new conditions and still be able to adapt and create responses.

Another step is to create “swarm” intelligence, allowing a pack of robots to share data with one another and combine to form complex social behaviors.

Here’s the Robot:

You’re too far away!
We’ve got awhile to go yet.

But what the M.I.T. robots may lack in looks or finesse, they make up for in originality: they are programmed to learn the way humans learn, through their bodies, their senses and the feedback generated by their own behavior. It is a more organic style of learning — though organic is, of course, a curious word to reach for to describe creatures that are so clearly manufactured.

Humans seem to adopt robots like they are pets. They’re going to be economically useful if they get the basics down.