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As CBA’s robot Chip gets more ‘human’ it’s coming up against one of our toughest traits

George Nott | May 4, 2017
Social intelligence is one of the biggest challenges for interactive robotics, along with our sky high expectations.

"Social robots are increasingly making their way into our daily lives," Judge says, pointing to the likes of Amazon Alexa and Google Home. "People are beginning to interact heavily with these devices and in some cases form emotional bonds, similar to how many people may feel about their smartphones. We are therefore already starting to anthropomorphise or humanise technology, but technology doesn't often give us the same treatment in response."



In order to make Chip "just a bit more human" as Judge puts it, in December last year, Chip was rolled-out, quite literally, to Stockland's Merrylands Shopping Centre in western Sydney, to meet the public.

"We're interested in how robotics could be used in our business parks and logistics centres, shopping centres and our residential and retirement living communities," Stockland CEO Mark Steinert said at the time, "this partnership is about defining the future rather than waiting for it to happen to us."

Three experiments were carried out over the day: the first of which saw Chip guide shoppers to a particular store in the centre. In the second Chip was 'hired' by retailers to advertise their products, and during the third Chip attempted to persuade shoppers to try a chocolate sample.

"In the final experiment we observed some interesting behaviour when peopled interacted with the robot, namely that the social strategies that a human would typically employ to attract attention were not effective for the robot," Judge says, "and there was a significant 'grouping' effect where people would prefer to approach the robot in larger numbers rather than individually."

The findings go beyond interactions with the physical robot, Judge explains.

"Some of the work and research we have done so far is focused on understanding how people interact with machine learning algorithms in a robotic context, something that is useful to understand from a broader banking product perspective," he said.

A current research project, working with University of Technology Sydney's Social Robotics Research Lab, is looking at privacy in machine learning systems, particularly in regards to face recognition algorithms.

"Face recognition systems obviously need to collect data about people's faces in order to function, but the question is how do you do this in a way that creates a positive user experience and maintains trust in the system, and can a robot help?" says Judge.


Great expectations

Chip is making great strides on its three wheels. It is being continuously updated and more public interaction experiments are being planned. Yet one of the biggest challenges facing Chip remains: the weight of expectation.

All new technology comes with baggage, former Intel anthropologist Genevieve Bell, now a professor at the Australian National University, explained at a digital summit in Canberra last month. 


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