“I’m not a robot, I have feelings” – how many times have you heard that phrase uttered? We tend to define our humanity by our ability to feel complicated and intense emotions. However, what if we were able to program robots to experience and empathize with a range of human emotions? Robots are often the stuff of dystopic nightmare, but what if they were able to comprehend human emotion on a level that could help other human beings and aid individuals through social interaction? What if they were even able to provide new insights into human behavior? Does the potential for socially assistive robots and intelligent machines fundamentally alter our perception of what it means to be human? The future may be less far away than we think, as we delve into the possibilities for the power of emotional connectivity and healing that might be found in robots.
Maja J Mataric, professor of computer science, neuroscience, and pediatrics, serves as Vice Dean for Research in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. She is the founding director of the USC Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems and the co-director of the USC Robotics Research Lab. Her Interaction Lab performs research into socially assistive robotics aimed at endowing robots with the ability to help people through non-contact monitoring, coaching, motivation, and training; her work has been successfully tested with stroke patients, Alzheimer's patients, healthy elderly, and children with autism spectrum disorders. Her research displays her polymathic interests as she combines engineering, psychology, sociology, and medicine to make advances in robotics.