Plymouth and Manchester Scientists Build a Fully-Functional Robot That You Really Want to Talk To

In a Channel 4 program earlier this week, a variety of families and couples discuss their issues, fears, and secrets with Jess, a robot.

Researchers themselves are surprised at people’s willingness to share some of their most personal information with the A.I., including such items as their bank statements.

How many of us could honestly say that they would discuss their deepest, most personal secrets with a completely unknown individual? That’s right. None of us.

Regardless, Plymouth and Manchester University scientists have proven quite the opposite on national television – the general public has quite the penchant for sharing. Not with strangers, granted. With a robot.

Robotics expert and resident Plymouth University professor Tony Belpaeme has recently appeared in a Channel 4 documentary called The Robot Will See You Now, as part of their larger season titled Rise of the Robots.

Jess, an A.I. (short for artificial intelligence) conceived and built by teams of scientists at Manchester University and Plymouth University, was the focus of an experiment where it counseled families and couples with their personal issues and insecurities, ranging from obesity to suspicions of adultery.

Mr. Belpaeme’s focus area of study is the interactions between humans and robots. He stated that their goal isn’t creating functional entities that do such things as serving your tea but creating social robots that can actively engage and interact in a social context.

Their projects include creating A.I. friends for kids that have spent time in hospitals and will face solitary recuperation, designing robots for children suffering from disorders in the autism spectrum, and building robots that can teach and educate in private tutoring classes.

The Channel 4 program aired on Tuesday and saw Jess analyzing, responding to, and advising on different issues that different people face in their daily lives, by employing A.I. analysis methods written in her code, with the help of her specialized operating crew. In the not-so-distant future, we might all be in a position to be consulted by A.I.s such as Jess.

Professor Belpaeme expresses his surprise at the readiness with which people gave up their most personal fears and details but outlines that we are, as a species, intrinsically social entities. As such, it’s in our nature to even treat a robot as one of our own, given that its programming is up to par.

In the program that aired on Tuesday, the “patients” begin by filling a form containing a full spectrum of personal information, from their deepest fears and insecurities to their favorite food and color. Afterwards, their responses are provided to Jess, who employs them to create a personalized session.

Even in his capacity as robot builder, Tony Belpaeme states that he was shocked as to people’s willingness to share details as personal as their bank statements without even flinching.


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