Questions from HRI researchers to social neuroscientists

Over the years HRI studies have thrown up a range of fascinating and rewarding observations, such as the compliance users show to requests made by robots or the enhanced learning outcomes from learning with social robots. However, we lack a theoretical grounding for these observations. On the other hand, social neuroscience and cognitive psychology have a much stronger conceptual grounding. Not only because they work closer to the subject of interest, i.e. the human, but also because they have a tradition in their respective fields to find the constituent components of human cognition, such as mirror neurons or the perception of agency. It seems as if HRI has the applications, but is feeling its way blindly around the underlying mechanisms, while the cognitive sciences might have the answers, but are looking for a field in which their theories can be tried. This talk will give a number of examples of HRI studies in search of theoretical grounding, will give an example of a fruitful collaboration between cognitive robotics and cognitive science and will end with a number of questions for both fields.

Tony Belpaeme

Tony Belpaeme Tony Belpaeme is Professor in Robotics and Cognitive Systems at Plymouth University, UK and Professor at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He received his PhD in Computer Science from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in 2002 under the supervision of Luc Steels. At Plymouth and Ghent he leads a team studying the science and technology of cognitive robotics and human-robot interaction. He received over 8 million GBP in external research funding as Principal Investigator or co-Principal Investigator. He currently is the coordinator of the H2020 L2TOR project, a large-scale European project bringing 7 partners together to study how robots can be used to support the learning of a second language to children. He coordinated the FP7 ALIZ-E project, which studied long-term human-robot interaction and its use in paediatric applications. And he is PI in the FP7 DREAM project, studying how robots can be used to support Autism Spectrum Disorder therapy.

Starting from the premise that intelligence is rooted in social interaction, Belpaeme and his research team try to further the science and technology behind artificial intelligence and social robots. This results in a spectrum of results, from theoretical insights to practical applications. The theoretical insights, in which he argues that interaction is central to natural and artificial cognition and that robots and machines should be sensitive to language and paralinguistic social mechanisms used by people, has drawn considerable academic attention. He complements this work by applying these insights in the design and implementation of robots and robotic applications. This work has been picked up by industry and has been taken up in clinical and educational practice, where robots are used to support and tutor children.

His research is used as a showcase of research success by various funding agencies, most recently the Research Councils UK, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the European Commission. The combination of both theoretical cognitive systems research applied to topics with societal relevance has gained him an international reputation. Belpaeme’s research was exhibited at the Wellcome Trust, the London Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the National Space Centre. His work often features in the international press (Le Monde, the Guardian, Sunday Times, Scientific American …) and media. In 2013, Research Councils UK chose his work as one of “ten life changing ideas under research at UK universities”, and in 2014 the Big Ideas for the Future report of RC UK and Universities UK mentioned his research as “20 new ideas from UK universities that will change the world”. (Further information on his personal webpage)