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In search for more HRI/Roboethics — start of CITEC Summer School

Submitted by on August 28, 2012 – 12:36 pm 4 Comments | 167 views

Packing for my Europe trip. Yes, the Pringles tube is my poster.

I woke up Saturday morning with less sense of panic than I had expected.

I was scheduled to leave for Europe later that day, and I still had barely packed for my three-week trip. It’s not that I had been procrastinating to pack until the last-minute. It’s just that I had been a bit overwhelmed with urgent tasks I had to complete before I could fly out.

But I’m not complaining (anymore, anyways). I have some exciting things planned for this trip, and the must-do items have (mostly) been crossed off as of Friday night — phew!
Thanks to the last-minute help from my friends (a.k.a. my gold star supporters), I managed to get ready on-time and even had time to enjoy an epic breakfast before I headed to the airport (thanks guys, you know who you are).

So, where am I going exactly?

In the next three weeks, I will visiting four different countries in Europe to expand my horizon within the fields human-robot interaction (HRI) and roboethics and to give the Open Roboethics initiative a push.

Arrived at Bielefeld

I am going to be a) attending a summer school in Bielefeld, Germany for a week b) visiting the Scuola di Robotica, CNR-IEIIT, and the University of Genoa in Genoa, Italy for about four/five days, c) meeting up with a fellow HRI researcher and a friend in Lausanne, Switzerland for a couple of days and d) attending the RO-MAN 2012 conference in Paris, France for the remaining part of my trip.

After 13+ hours of flight/train ride from Vancouver, I have safely arrived at Bielefeld to attend a summer school at CITEC (Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology).
Hosted by the Bielefeld University , the topic of the summer school is on verbal and nonverbal communication within the context of human-human and human-machine interaction.

Not a lot of people realize this, but studying verbal and nonverbal communication is quite closely related to the study of roboethics.

Bielefeld by the Rathaus (city hall)

To communicate something to someone means to influence certain behaviour or state of another person. That means communication between humans and robots in the context of human-robot interaction is all about the two types of agents influencing the behaviours of each other. Designing robot behaviours that influence the behaviour or state of a person or his/her environment, then, cannot (and should not, anyways) ignore the social, legal, and ethical implications of the interaction being designed.

My masters thesis project explored a little bit of this idea, which I’d love to talk about in detail, but maybe in my subsequent post.

I am currently in a heavenly ‘limbo’ stage in my academic life where I have finished my masters only a few months ago and, with the luxury of having a four-year fellowship, I have the freedom to choose my research topic for my PhD. That means this is the perfect time for me to flirt with different project ideas before I settle down in a fully committed relationship with a project (and that’s without having to worry too much about funding). So part of my travel goal is to meet with some of the leading figures in HRI and roboethics, and find some new/more ideas to flirt with.

I was lucky to get sponsorship from the EUCog (European Network for the Advancement of Artificial Cognitive Systems, Interaction and Robotics) and support from my supervisors (Drs. Mike Van der Loos and Elizabeth Croft) to fund part of this trip which, starting from day 1, has already been filled with a lot of learning. Due to the highly interdisciplinary nature of the summer school, I am getting to know forty or so doctoral students with various backgrounds: psychology, psycholinguistics, computer science, and engineering etc., who all work on human-human and human-robot communication systems.

Although there’s no internet at the hostel in Bielefeld the students are staying at, I am hoping that I’ll be able to jot down some of my ideas from the summer school and share with you here. And maybe I’ll also get the chance to talk a little bit about my own project (finally!) as well. :)

This morning’s keynote speaker is Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese roboticist famous for having made a geminoid (teleoperated android copy) of himself and his daughter. Exciting!