AI News, How Not to Order Water from a Robot Waiter

How Not to Order Water from a Robot Waiter

You might think that“Can you tell me what time it is?” is a similar question, but taken literally, it’s asking whether you have the capacity to relate the time through speech, so a correct answer would be “Yes, I can” whether you know what time it is or not.

In a restaurant, for example, it would be much simpler if people would reliably say“Bring me x” when they wanted x, but many people think of that as being rude, and instead muddle things up with language like, “Can you bring me x?” or“If you could bring me x, that would be great.” For a robot that consistently interprets ISAs literally, this can result in some serious confusion.

To explore some of these issues, researchers from Tufts University’s Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory, led by Matthias Scheutz, andColorado School of Mines’ MIRROR Lab, directed by Tom Williams, recruited 49 participants to interact with a robot in different scenarios, including a pretend restaurant where humans weretasked with ordering severalitemsby talking with a waiter robot.The Waiterbotwas remote controlledWizard-of-Oz-style byresearchers from a room nearby, and its voice was generated by atext-to-speech system.

Yet another said “I would speak to the robot very literally, not like a human.” These participants attempted to speak to the robot in normal, polite, human-like ways, and acknowledged that they would have to give up such a way of speaking in order to have successful interactions in the future.

My guess is that most conversational agents (Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri) do this, because they don’t seem to differentiate between, “Are you capable of doing x” and “Do x.” I spent a little bit of time messing with my own Google Assistant to try to find a situation in which I could force it to make that differentiation;

Indeed, the study showed that “indirect speech acts were used by the majority of participants and constituted the majority of task-relevant utterances.” While humans who interacted with the robot for a little bit quickly figured out that ISAs were not effective, and it’s likely that some instruction up front would have avoided the problems completely, it’s not necessarily reasonable to assume that a naive user would have a pleasant or efficient experience, as exemplified by that sample conversation.

Ideally, future research on natural language understanding would develop mechanisms whereby robots can automatically learn to understand ISAs in general, or to understand specific newly encountered ISA forms, which would allow robots to adapt to their human users instead of requiring the opposite.

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