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ShanghAI Lectures: Nikolaos Mavridis “Robots, language, and social networks”

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27 March 2014



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Nikolaos_MavridisGuest talk in the ShanghAI Lectures, 2010-12-16

The lecture starts with a short introduction to the Interactive Robots and Media Lab and the United Arab Emirates. Then, it continues by exploring some basic requirements towards creating Situated Conversational Assistants, i.e. devices with sensing, actuation, and spoken natural language which can assist humans in various tasks.

A concrete example of such a device is presented: Ripley the Robot, a manipulator robot with vision and speech that can serve motor commands, answer questions about the current or past situations, and get information about the current state of the world through language. In the context of such devices, a number of considerations are introduced, which then lead to the Symbol Grounding Problem, a philosophical problem which is shown to be at the heart of attempts towards building such embodied agents that can talk about their surroundings – which cannot just “plug-and-play” with traditional NLP approaches.

The symbol grounding problem is discussed, as well as its relation to semantics and semiotics, and then three practical pathways towards real-world solutions to the problem that promise to enable wider application of Situated Conversational Assistants are introduced. Then, Grounded Situation Models are briefly discussed, followed by a very quick glimpse of other requirements towards conversational robots.

The lecture finishes with a brief look at the FaceBots social robots, which utilize and publish social information on the internet in order to create sustainable human-robot relationships, as well as the Ibn Sina arabic speaking conversational robot and the modalities available for tele-participation in the interactive theatre that is built around him.

The ShanghAI Lectures are a videoconference-based lecture series on Embodied Intelligence, run and organized by Rolf Pfeifer (from 2009 till 2012), Fabio Bonsignorio (since 2013), and me with partners around the world. 

Dr. Nikolaos Mavridis, PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has taught, written about, researched, and built Intelligent Systems and Robots, having been active in the area since his early youth. Currently he is serving as Ass. Professor at New York University in Abu Dhabi. He is the founder of IRML (the Interactive Robots and Media Lab), which achieved wide publicity for “Ibn Sina”, the world’s first Arabic-Language Android Robot, as well as “FaceBots”, Microsoft-award-recipient Social Robots which access info and publish on FaceBook. His past work includes “Ripley”, a language-learning robot with abilities comparable to those assessed by the token test, a test administered to 3-year-old children. He is a member of the IEEE, has served in numerous leadership positions in the past, is now a TEDx curator and has been a TEDx speaker twice.

Watch Dr. Mavridis at:

The ShanghAI Lectures have brought us a treasure trove of guest lectures by experts in robotics. You can find the whole series from 2012 here. Now, we’re bringing you the guest lectures you haven’t yet seen from previous years, starting with the first lectures from 2009 and releasing a new guest lecture every Thursday until all the series are complete. Enjoy!



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Nathan Labhart Co-organizing the ShanghAI Lectures since 2009.
Nathan Labhart Co-organizing the ShanghAI Lectures since 2009.





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