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Computer Science Showcase Success

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School of Computer Science students show off their final projects to industry leaders and fellow classmates in an exciting annual showcase event.

A Smart Mirror, a ‘Swords of Turing’ fighting game and chess lessons with a twist played a big part of the day-long event with undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Minerva Building, Atrium.

Senior Lecturer Bruce Hargrave said: “The event was a huge success. We had some great student projects on show throughout the day including postgraduate research, presentations and demo’s and it was great to see some local industry leaders getting involved in the day and giving advice to students too.”

Students created chatbots, games and other artefacts intended to ‘pass’ the Turing Test, under the title ‘Man or Machine? Can You Tell The Difference?’

Computer Science student Keiran Lowe said: “It’s been a really good experience and really valuable, because even though our project is in development, people who try the game have given us responses we might not have thought about. And because we have to programme each response in, we can add their responses to increase the knowledge base.

“It’s been a good event to showcase our project at, but also to test it on what people think.”

Watch Keiran’s project here:

Even Gadget Show presenter and University of Lincoln guest lecturer Jason Bradbury came along to see the projects in action. Jason helped students with ideas, encouraging projects to go further and promoting team work from start to finish.

Organiser Dr Amr Ahmed said: “This is another success and expansion over the last 4 years events. More guests and interests, better projects and demos, all made public in the Atrium for internal and external visitors.

“We are proud of our students achievements and annually organise such events to make opportunities for them to interact with employers and visitors to show their work. The panel find it more and more difficult to choose the winners at the end of the event. And they are looking forward for the next year’s event already. Some job vacancies have already been sent to us, from guests and employers.”

University Vice Chancellor, Professor Mary Stuart enjoyed the day too, adding: “What a wonderful event and so good to see all the work.

How perfect is too perfect?

MARC the 3D printed robot
MARC the 3D printed robot
Research reveals robot flaws are key to interacting with humans.

Humans are less likely to form successful working relationships with interactive robots if they are programmed to be too perfect.

Interactive or ‘companion’ robots are increasingly used to support caregivers for elderly people and for children with autism, Asperger syndrome or attachment disorder, yet by programming their behaviour to become more intelligent we could in fact be creating barriers to long-term human-robot relationships, the research suggests.

Conducted by robotics experts from the University of Lincoln, UK, the study found that a person is much more likely to warm to an interactive robot if it shows human-like ‘cognitive biases’ – deviations in judgement which form our individual characteristics and personalities, complete with errors and imperfections.The investigation was conducted by PhD researcher Mriganka Biswas and overseen by Dr John Murray from the University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science. Their findings were presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) conference in Hamburg in October 2015.

Mriganka said: “Our research explores how we can make a robot’s interactive behaviour more familiar to humans, by introducing imperfections such as judgemental mistakes, wrong assumptions, expressing tiredness or boredom, or getting overexcited. By developing these cognitive biases in the robots – and in turn making them as imperfect as humans – we have shown that flaws in their ‘characters’ help humans to understand, relate to and interact with the robots more easily.”

Currently most human-robot interaction is based on a set of well-ordered and structured rules and behaviours. However the Lincoln academics used a technique new to robotics research, which involved introducing the cognitive biases ‘misattribution of memory’ and ‘empathy gap’ – which traditionally play a significant role in human interactions and relationships – to two different robots.

The investigation involved Dr Murray’s robot ERWIN (Emotional Robot with Intelligent Network), which has the ability to express five basic emotions, and Keepon, a small yellow robot designed to study social development by interacting with children.

The researchers examined a number of interactions between the robots and human participants. During half of the interactions the robots were not affected by cognitive biases, but during the remainder, ERWIN made mistakes when remembering simple facts (using verbal abilities and expressions) and Keepon showed extreme happiness or sadness (using various movements and noises).

The participants were then asked to rate their experiences, and the results revealed that almost of all of those taking part enjoyed a more meaningful interaction with the robots when they made mistakes.

“The cognitive biases we introduced led to a more humanlike interaction process,” Mriganka explained. “We monitored how the participants responded to the robots and overwhelmingly found that they paid attention for longer and actually enjoyed the fact that a robot could make common mistakes, forget facts and express more extreme emotions, just as humans can.

“The human perception of robots is often affected by science fiction; however there is a very real conflict between this perception of superior and distant robots, and the aim of human-robot interaction researchers. A companion robot needs to be friendly and have the ability to recognise users’ emotions and needs, and act accordingly. Despite this, robots used in previous research have lacked human characteristics so that users cannot relate – how can we interact with something that is more perfect than we are?

“As long as a robot can show imperfections which are similar to those of humans during their interactions, we are confident that long-term human-robot relations can be developed.”

The results of this study pave the way for the next phase of Mriganka’s PhD research, which will investigate whether using robots that show cognitive bias in a similar way, but which look more human-like, develops even more successful relationships. Mriganka’s current studies involve MARC (Multi-Actuated Robotic Companion), Dr Murray’s 3D-printed humanoid robot. The design of MARC is supplied by the open source project InMoov.

Previous research suggests that the appearance of humanoid robots helps users to understand their gestures more intuitively. Hand movements, body language and speech are easy for the human sensory system to interpret straight away as they have been practised since childhood. Mriganka will research whether this familiarity, coupled with cognitive biases and humanlike faults, will stimulate even more positive reactions from users.