Friday, March 7, 2008

Galatea meets iCub

The protagonist of Richard Power's Galatea 2.2, working with a misanthropic programing wonk, teaches an AI computer language by having it read great works of literature. Powers, as in all his books, knows his subject: language acquisition, lingusitic theory, programing, AI theory. A post at Conscious Entities reports on what researchers hope might be a real-world Galatea. Here's an exert.

More about babies - of a sort. You may have seen reports that Plymouth University, with support from many other institutions, has won the opportunity to teach a baby robot to speak. The robot in question is the iCub, and the project is part of Italk, funded by the EU under its Seventh Framework Programme, to the tune of £4.7 million (you can’t help wondering whether it wouldn’t have been value for money to have slipped Steve Grand half a million while they were at it…).
The gist of it seems to be that next year the people at Plymouth will get the iCub to engage in various dull activities like block-stacking (a perennial with both babies and AI) and try to introduce speech communication about the tasks. It is meant to be learning in a way far closer to the typical human experience than anything attempted before. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any clear statement of how they expect the language skills to work, though there is quite a lot of technical detail available about the iCub.

Go to Conscioius Entities for the rest.


  1. This is an interesting project but not sure how they can imitate human learning. A mother communicates with her infant through touch and affection as well as sound. -Not to mention using empathy, intuition and other intangibles. Good post as it gets one thinking.

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  3. I think Powers get into the subtleties of these questions... not on the level of the infant's learning, but on a later and higher level... of what it's all for, what language-consciousness is meant to serve. Galatea 2.2 is well worth reading as a primer on the psychological and metaphysical dimensions of AI.