The age of robots is nigh, but humans need to understand how to interact with them

When was the last time you interacted with a robot? It was likely more recently than you think.

“Robots are actually everywhere now already,” former Willow Garage senior researcher Leila Takayama said at the Gigaom Roadmap conference Tuesday. “When you go to an ATM and get cash out of that machine, you’re interacting with a robot.”

It’s more common to think of robots as a humanoid machine that can help us with everything from laundry to companionship. But humans aren’t quite ready for that. It’s natural to expect too much from robots, which causes disappointment, Takayama said.

According to Takayama,  a user experience overhaul will help humans and robots get along more effortlessly. If people are taught to expect less of a robot, they are more likely to help it perform its tasks, leading to better results. Robots could also be built to express more emotions understandable to humans, such as acknowledging a mistake. Takayama said that when robots act aware of their own actions, humans tend to perceive them as more intelligent and manageable.

“What if those robots showed a little bit of remorse? What happens when there’s a little bit of shame?” Takayama said. “I think we can go a really, really long way to making them more human-friendly. Setting expectations is a tricky thing to do, but it’s particularly important with a loaded space like robotics.”

She likened current robots to computer mainframes, which were once expensive and required an entire team of experts to operate. But like computers, robots won’t be stuck in that age for long. Still, we don’t have to wait for the emergence of the perfect personal robot before we can make them a part of our lives.

“Don’t wait around for robotics to be this awesome thing. Take advantage of the bits and pieces now,” Takayama said. “That future is today.”

Check out the rest of our Roadmap 2013 live coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

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A transcription of the video follows on the next page