Einstein robot smiles when you do

Fri Feb 6, 2009 9:40am EST
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By David Lawsky

LONG BEACH, California (Reuters) - Albert Einstein looked around, made eye contact and smiled.

Of course, the renowned scientist has been dead for more than 50 years but he was reincarnated this week in the form of a so-called empathetic robot that pushes the boundaries of automation by being able to interact with people using emotional nuances.

The rubberized rendition of Einstein's head and shoulders with piercing movable eyes, a shock of white hair and distinctive mustache dazzled a crowd of 1,500 at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference that seeks to foster creativity among entrepreneurs, scientists and designers.

The robot Einstein follows people with his eyes and smiles or frowns as appropriate. Even up close, it looks surprisingly real. "It's machine empathy," roboticist David Hanson told the audience. "This is a robot that can understand feeling and mimic.

Einstein got his personality two weeks ago when Hanson's contraption was married to software from the Institute for Neural Computation at the University of California, San Diego.

Einstein's creators believe that one day computers will be able to relate to people -- listening and responding at a level not yet seen.

Some of the same computer techniques were used in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Ed Ulbrich, the movie's digital visual effect producer, showed the TED audience how Brad Pitt's expressions were imposed on a computer-created version of him as an old man. It was a task that involved 155 people.

The latest version of Einstein, which is the fourth evolution of the robot, was created two months ago. Earlier Hanson robots are at museums, research institutes and universities around the world.   Continued...

<p>The Einstein robot is shown on display in this publicity image from the TED2009 Conference in Long Beach, California February 5, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Carpenter for David Hanson/Handout</p>