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Can machines learn social skills the way we do? To find out, Cynthia Breazeal, a computer scientist at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, built Kismet. "Robots are in some ways like human infants," she says, in that they are unskilled and immature. Breazeal programmed Kismet with drives that need to be satisfied, like a baby's. She also gave it expressive facial features, to mimic the emotional feedback of a parent-infant relationship, Kismet appears happy, for example, if it sees people. If it's disgusted, its eyelids and ears droop; if it's interested in something, everything perks up.

Although Kismet isn't really learning yet, Breazeal is developing its necessary underlying communication skills. If she shows Kismet a slowly moving Slinky, it looks happy; but if she moves the toy too quickly, Kismet looks overwhelmed and eventually shuts its eyes. Such feedback might eventually lead to robots that can interact in sophisticated ways with humans.

"Even with all our potential as human beings, we don't reach adult-level abilities unless we have help," says Breazeal. "Right now we throw our robots into a room and let them figure it out, but a benevolent caretaker can simplify the world down to a level they can handle and then help feed them this complexity in digestible chunks." ------------------------------------------------------------------------

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