Empathetic Robots? Not So Far-Fetched

Scientists claim they’ve created a robot that has shown slight signs of the ability to empathize.

Researchers at Columbia University have designed a robot that’s able to predict its partner robot’s actions based on observing its movements.

The breakthrough development - the act of being aware of and experiencing the thoughts of others - has been a long-time obstacle in robotic science.

The scientists began by programming a tiny robot to find and move toward the nearest green circle it could see in a playpen. A second robot was placed into the pen to simply “watch” the first robot's movements. After two hours, the “observer” bot was able to anticipate and predict the path of the first one 98% of the time. Even in cases when the nearest green circle wasn’t visible to the first robot, the observer would identify the closest circle the first one would find.

Boyuan Chen, who is studying for his PhD in computer science at Columbia, calls it a primitive form of empathy saying “Our initial results are very exciting. They begin to demonstrate how robots can see the world from another robot’s perspective.”

Professor Hod Lipson, of Columbia University, says this raises ethical issues that need to be watched closely.