Anything we can do, it can do better

June 4, 1999

Kismet is the world's first baby robot. Part of the larger Cog project, it has been created by Cynthia Breazeal to have meaningful social and emotional exchanges with humans. Though still a work-in-progress, Kismet was designed for "up-close and interpersonal, face-to-face relations with people", says Breazeal.

"For the past 100 years, since the discovery of evolution, humankind has been retreating from its sense of specialness," says Rodney Brooks. "We have accepted the possibility that computers can think. Emotions are the last realm of specialness that we have left."

Kismet has no body, but it has a most expressive face. Its big blue eyes are framed by eyelids that can open and close. Its eyebrows lift and arch, and its ears can turn and move. It can open or close its generous mouth. Kismet can see, with the aid of a colour camera embedded in each eyeball, it can hear, and a voice-box is in the works. By using all of these capabilities, Kismet can look angry, tired, afraid, disgusted, happy, sad or surprised. And it can do so in response to what people are doing.

"I wanted to make a robot that would elicit emotions from people and that would itself express emotions," says Breazeal.

The ultimate goal of the Kismet project is for it to learn from its emotional interactions with people, much as a child does. This, says Breazeal, requires mutual empathy between the robot and its care-giver.

"When Kismet looks sad, just like a baby looks sad, it's human nature to say: 'What can I do to make it happy?' And so we alter our behaviour so as to get a happy response.

"Similarly, Kismet is motivated to find those expressions that elicit the right responses from a human. Like a baby, Kismet will learn to predict what will make its care-giver angry or pleased and will behave accordingly."

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