AI News, BOOK REVIEW: Ghost in the machine: the robot that can understand emotion

Ghost in the machine: the robot that can understand emotion

The operating system can be put inside a 3D-printed mask that resembles whoever you want it to resemble, complete with the ability to “see”, “hear” and “speak” to make it feel like you’re interacting with another human.

“This crazy idea that if you create a machine that looks and sounds like people you can use them in extremely unique and valuable ways.” Al Moubayed and co-founders Gabriel Skantze, Jonas Beskow and Preben Wik met and worked closely together at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, starting what he describes as an “intellectual quest”.

“With Furhat what we are trying to create is that final stage and bring that machine to the physical world – a robot that can sit with you, understand your physical space, interact with more than one person.” Last year the company, which has 17 employees, raised finance from Balderton Capital and LocalGlobe.

Or robots for language learning.” The startup has developed a pilot in Swedish schools featuring an interactive educational quiz game, and also has a partnership with Honda involving the development of a “smart” care home for older people.

Psychologically [the robots are] are very close to us which causes us to panic - it questions our purpose in life One of the biggest challenges, though, might be the fear that comes alongside the science fiction – that robots might end up taking over.

Psychologically it’s very close to us, which causes us to panic, that’s a very natural reaction – it questions our purpose in life.” He argues that instead of listening to that fear we should instead focus on the ways this technology can help give us back that ever-elusive commodity – time.

Social robot faces the real world

An increasingly important – and sometimes frustrating – part of daily life is dealing with so-called “user interfaces”.

With a computer-generated, animated face that is rear-projected on a 3D mask, Furhat is actually a platform for testing various interactive technologies, such as speech synthesis, speech recognition and eye-tracking.

The robot can conduct conversations with multiple people, turning its head and looking each person straight in the eye, while moving its animated lips in synch with its words.

The Furhat team aims to develop its technology for commercial use, with the help of funding from Sweden’s Vinnova, a government agency that supports innovation projects.The team behind the development of Furhat also includes: Jonas Beskow, Joakim Gustafson, and Gabriel Skantze.

“They have been following the development of Furhat for a long time,” says Al Moubayed, who returned last week from a two-week visit to the U.S., where he presented the hardware and software behind Furhat at Microsoft’s and Disney’s research labs.

“You want an interface that fulfills or reaches a critical quality that people can interact with in a natural way, otherwise the interaction you get is not natural anymore, and does not resemble how people interact with each other.”

Unlike a 2D image, which can appear to be looking at everybody in the room at once – a phenomenon known as the “Mona Lisa effect” – Furhat appears to shift its gaze because the face is projected onto 3D-printed model of a human face.

Inside the head of a robot creator

By developing and selling the most social robot in the world, his company Furhat Robotics has contributed to putting Stockholm on the map as one of the world’s most innovative cities.

Hopefully it is also encouraging for other young startups who, like Furhat Robotics, dare to approach highly futuristic products that demand a lot of belief in the idea, and don’t shy away from the challenges along the way, says Samer Al Moubayed.

The robot creator came from Syria in 2008 to finish his PhD in computer science and speech technology at KTH, and later started to brainstorm the first prototype of what was to become Furhat Robotics.

The robot head with built-in computers has pushed the boundaries of how physical robots can interact with people by integrating layers of social intelligence on top of the software, allowing people to interact with the Furhat robot in ways similar to how people interact with each other.

We have all seen and grown used to robots that maw the lawn or build cars and can even recently drive them, but what Furhat Robotics is building is robots with social intelligence, personal robots with skills that allow them to socialize, interact, and integrate with people, as a social alternative to the traditional computer interface.

At the same time as we offer Furhat as a platform for developers to build social interaction applications on non-commercial agreements, we have also started a few properly financed projects for cognitive training and education.

We are also working on Furhat as an intelligent and integrated receptionist in public places such as parks and shopping centres and hope to be launching the first pilot in 2016, says Samer Al Moubayed.


I am currently the CEO of Furhat Robotics AB, a social robotics and social AI startup I co-founded in 2014.

The vision of Furhat Robotics is to build the world's most expressive, cistomizable, and socially intelligent robotics platform to enable applications of human-robot interaction in the real-world.

Btween April 2014 and May 2015, I joinedDisney Researchin the US, as a R&D postdoc where I worked on Embodied multimodal dialog systems, and child-robot spoken interaction using the Furhat platform.

My main focus is in the area of artificial social intelligence and social signal processing, with focus in applications in embodied human-machine spoken interaction.

My research involves the use of building computational models on sensor data of human behavior (prosody, gaze, facial gestures, head-pose, eyebrows movements and situation modelling and social context), for the analysis, modelling, and synthesis of interactive behaviors in artificial "humans".

My research interests in general terms are: Social signal processing, social robotics, multimodal multiparty spoken dialogue systems, modeling and synthesis of human-like dynamics, and embodied conversational agents.

During my PhD, I've been part of building the Furhat robot head, and using it as a research device to explore more advanced and rich facial interaction between humans and robots.

Furhat - a social robot at a bar

This is a part of a recording of Furhat being at a bar at the annual Tällberg Forum in Sweden. Furhat shows ability to chitchat socially with multiple people. for ...

Furhat, The Chameleon robot head - changing appearance on command

This is a demo of the Furhat robot head, showing how it can change its color through a dialogue with a human

Talking to Furhat, the human-like robot - part 2

Talking to Furhat, the human-like robot - part 1

Breaking News - Furhat mannequin robots feel like 'they are alive'

They are intended to make people feel more comfortable interacting with robots, but disembodied Furhat heads may have the opposite effect on some.

BBC coverage of Furhat at RobotVille - London Science Museum

This is a cut from the BBC coverage on the robotville robot festival at the London Science Museum, December 2011.

Furhat mannequin robots feel like 'they are alive' | news 24h

Furhat is the creation of Samer Al Moubayed, who founded Furhat Robotics in 2014 with colleagues the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

fox news - Furhat mannequin robots feel like 'they are alive'

fox news - Furhat mannequin robots feel like 'they are alive' They are intended to make people feel more comfortable interacting with robots, but disembodied ...

fox news - Furhat mannequin robots feel like 'they are alive'

fox news - Furhat mannequin robots feel like 'they are alive' They are intended to make people feel more comfortable interacting with robots, but disembodied ...

Meet Furhat, the human face of AI.