Robots given their own language

Robots have been given the opportunity to talk their own talk thanks to boffins at the University of Queensland (UQ).

Postdoctoral research fellow Dr Ruth Schulz and her team have created a pair of bots which have their own dialect and can communicate with each other by developing their own words for places, and relationships between places based on distance and direction.

Known as the ‘Lingodroids’, these bots can then spout out what sounds to us humans like a series of phone tones, which are easy for them to produce and hear in a noisy office environment.

However, if they thought they could slag us humans off without us knowing, the robots are out of luck as these tones can be translated into syllables to make it easy for humans to recognise them.

To produce these tones the robots, according to Dr Schulz, start by playing where-are-we games.

If they encounter an area that has not yet been named, one will invent a word, such as “kuzo”, choosing a random combination of syllables, which it is then able to communicate to other robots it meets. This then forms the name of the place.

Once they have done this the robots then start to play how-far and which-direction games, which enable them to develop relationship words. This results in a language consisting of location, distance and direction words. According to the researchers an essential aspect of these games is that the robots develop detailed ideas of where a word should be used.

To ensure they had the right end of the stick the robot’s language was tested using games in which the  attempted to meet at a particular toponym, or place name.

For example if one robot told the other “jaya”, they would independently navigate to where they thought “jaya” was. When both robots arrived at the same location, the concept “jaya” was consistent between the robots.

After playing hundreds of games to develop their language, the researchers said that the robots were finally able to agree on concepts for toponyms within 0.65 metres, directions within 10 degrees and distances within 0.375 metres.

“We believe that the natural way to communicate with robots will be through human language,” Dr Schulz said.

She said that in the future her team would look at extending the types of concepts able to be formed by the robots, as well as expanding “additional grammatical features of language and to human-robot interaction.”

Watch the video below to see the robots in action.