Osamu Hasegawa, an associate professor at the Tokyo Insitute of Technology, has reportedly developed a system that allows robots to look around their environment and do research on the Internet, enabling them to “think” about how best to solve a problem.
Hasegawa told AFP: “Most existing robots are good at processing and performing the tasks they are pre-programmed to do, but they know little about the ‘real world’ where we humans live. So our project is an attempt to build a bridge between robots and that real world."
Hasegawa's Self-Organizing Incremental Neural Network, or SOINN, is an algorithm that allows robots to use their knowledge to infer how to complete tasks they have been told to do.
SOINN examines the environment to gather the data it needs to complete a coherent set of instructions. If a SOINN-powered machine is told to "serve water," then the robot works out the order of the actions required to complete the task.
The SOINN machine asks for help when facing a task beyond its ability and stores the information it learns for use in a future task.
In a separate experiment, SOINN is used to power machines to search the Internet for information on what something looks like, or what a particular word might mean.
Hasegawa’s team is trying to merge these abilities and create a machine that can work out how to perform a given task through online research: “In the future, we believe it will be able to ask a computer in England how to brew a cup of tea and perform the task in Japan."
Like humans, the system can also filter out “noise” or insignificant information that might confuse other robots. “Human brains do this so well automatically and smoothly so we don’t realise that we are even doing this,” said Hasegawa.
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“There is a huge amount of information available on the Internet, but at present, only humans are making use of such information. This robot can connect its brain directly to the Internet."
Hasegawa hopes SOINN might one day be put to practical use, such as controlling traffic lights to ease traffic jams by analyzing data from public monitors and accident reports.
Hasegawa believes that In a domestic setting, a robot that could learn could be invaluable to a busy household: “We might ask a robot to bring soy sauce to the dinner table. It might browse the Internet to learn what soy sauce is and identify it in the kitchen."