"Hello, Kismet," said Cynthia Breazeal in a sing-song voice. Leaning closer to the object of her attention, she asked, "Are you going to talk to me?" This exchange would be familiar to any parent, but Kismet is not a child. It's a robotic head that is able to interact with humans in a human-like way through myriad facial expressions, head positions, and tones of voice. "The goal is to build a socially intelligent machine that learns things as we learn them, through social interactions," said Dr. Breazeal, a postdoctoral associate at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and leader of the Kismet team.
Building a sociable machine, she believes, is also key to building a smarter machine. Most current robots are programmed to be very good at a specific task, such as navigating a room, but they can't do much more. "Can we build a much more open-ended learning system?" Dr. Breazeal asks. "I'm building a robot that can use the social structure that people already use to help each other learn. If we can build a robot that can tap into that system, then we might not have to program every piece of its behavior."