When a raised eyebrow or shoulder shrug can say so much it is hardly surprising that scientists have struggled to get computers and robots to interact with us beyond basic commands. If only computers could express some emotion.
The EU-funded TANGO project set out to render complex paralinguistics into the unemotional language of maths. By analysing the expressions of volunteers and how they convey emotion, the team wants to develop theories and formulas that computers and robots can use to work out the emotions of a person. And likewise, adding gestures like frowns or smiles – expressing happiness, sarcasm or pain – to the faces of robot or game characters makes them more human-like and appealing to people.
Research like this is critical to the development of not only more life-like robots, but ultimately the sort of trusted sentient helpers and robotic friends that science-fiction is good at depicting but real science struggles to replicate.