KU team shoots for thinking robot within 10 years


Lawrence,KS (03-02-2001)

From University Daily Kansan
By Brandon Stinnett



Its the 21st century and robots still arent walking down Massachusetts Street. But that might change if Tom Schreiber and his colleagues have their way.

Schreiber, professor of cognitive psychology, and Frank Brown, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, have assembled a team of researchers to develop and build a robot that would perform some of the same cognitive processes as human beings.

The project, called Kansas University Cognitive Robotics Project (KUCRP), has been in brainstorming stages since 1997. Some preliminary production has begun on a test robot, which will pave the way for the actual robot in the years to come.

We seek to understand and to explore the nature of human intelligence by trying to simulate it using state-of-the-art technologies, Schreiber said. Using a robot as a research tool is ideal.

The robot will be programmed to use the same cognitive processes that researchers believe humans use to complete everyday tasks, such as visually identifying and picking up objects.

We can outfit it with the sensory and actuation systems that resemble those of human beings, he said. The robot itself is situated in a real rather than a virtual environment. It can actively gather information about its world and can even manipulate it.

The robot would allow researchers to study whether theories about human thought processes used to perform simple tasks are accurate. If the robot performed specified tasks, then researchers would know whether their theories regarding those thought processes were correct.

There is no other type of device used for the purposes of studying and simulating human cognition that has these characteristics, Schreiber said.

Schreiber estimated a finished robot in five to 10 years only if the project received the requested funding from academic and scientific institutions. Completing the robot would require millions of dollars in funding from outside sources. Schreiber said the project has received some limited funding from the University but the project would need money.

Though the technology does exist to program and build the robot, Schreiber said current knowledge on human cognitive processes was lacking. He said psychologists didnt yet fully understand the cognitive processes in humans, which would make it difficult to program a robot to perform similar tasks.

He said because of the new terrain, institutions might hesitate before handing out sizable financial grants.

Our endeavor also has a high degree of risk associated with it, Schreiber said. There is a danger that we either cannot fulfill what we have promised or that it will take much longer than calculated.

Schreiber is looking to students to help with the project, providing that funding continues to come in.

Certainly, our learning environment provides an opportunity for students to learn not only about their own fields and closely-related ones but also about how a group of talented yet diverse people work together, Schreiber said.

There are six members of the KUCRP team and all specialize in different areas.

During meetings each week, team members bring with them different ideas and approaches to the project. This creates some difficulties, but Schreiber said they did not outweigh the benefits of having a diverse group.

The groups diversity has earned praise from Beverly Davenport Sypher, associate dean of liberal arts and sciences.

I frequently refer to the Kansas University of Cognitive Robotics group as an ideal example of multidisciplinary cooperation, Sypher said. It is a state-of-the-art endeavor involving scientists and engineers from fields as diverse as computer science, artificial intelligence, linguistics and psychology.

Some students, however, are skeptical of the teams ability to create such a high-tech robot.

I really dont think they can do it, said Jason Crowther, Wichita junior and cognitive psychology student. They can program them to act like they think and look like they think, but they wont think like humans, and they wont have other things, like ambition.

Even if building the robot is possible, Crowther said a robot that thought and acted like people could take way from human beings sense of individuality and self-importance.

Michelle Sudyka, Omaha, Neb., freshman, has different concerns. While she supports advances in scientists understanding of humans, she doesnt want robots to become too powerful.

Its kind of freaky, she said. If its not abused than its good to understand humans. I dont want robots to overtake the world or anything.

Sudyka would like to see robots that can do things like help out around the house.

More practical robots would be cool, Sudyka said. If there was a robot that could clean the house efficiently and it didnt cost $20,000, then why not. Were not in the science fiction movies yet, and robots arent attacking us.

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