Robot Passes Self-Awareness Test

Uh-oh, a robot for the first time has passed a self-awareness test. The test might seem simple, but it's extremely difficult for a robot.

Roboticists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York put three customized Nao robots through a modified version of the “wise men puzzle” test of self-awareness, and one of the robots passed the test.

Professor Selmer Bringsjord programmed the robots to think that two of them took a dumbing pill, which was just a button on their heads, that makes them mute. Two of the robots were actually made mute by pressing the button on their head, and all three were then asked which pill they received.

All three attempt to say “I don’t know,” but only one is successful. In the video below, you’ll see the robot on the right raise his hand after hearing its voice. This is when it becomes self-aware. Since it could talk, the robot understands it was not silenced and becomes self-aware.

The robot actually changes its answer by saying “sorry, I know now. I was able to prove that I was not given a dumbing pill.”

This might sound like a simple test, but it’s extremely difficult for a robot. The robot must listen to and understand the question, hear and recognize its own voice responding, then remember what the original question was and answer appropriately.

The test was performed in front of press at RPI prior to a presentation to be given at next month’s RO-MAN conference in Kobe, Japan. Bringsjord says this exercise proves that robots can achieve some degree of self-awareness. Bringsjord says the team isn’t worried about questions of consciousness, but instead want to build robots that are capable of doing things that might be considered examples of conscious behavior.

The RPI test is a simpler version of a puzzle called “The King’s Wise Men,” which goes like this. A king is looking for a new wise man for counsel so he calls three of the wisest men around to his quarters. There he places a hat (in this on the head of each of the men from behind so they cannot see it. He then tells them that each hat is either blue or white and that the contest is being done fairly, and that the first man to deduce the color of the hat on his own head wins. The only way the contest could be conducted fairly would be for all three to have the same color hat, thus, the first man to note the color of the hats on the other two men and declare his to be the same color, would win.


About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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