Ep. 20: Are humans ready to engage in social interactions with humanoid robots?
In the ERC project “InStance”, prof. Agnieszka Wykowska from Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa examines relationship between humans and robots, focusing specifically on the question of whether and when people attribute intentional agency to the robots.Prof. Wykowska combines the methods of cognitive neuroscience with robotics, to understand human response to robots not only at the behavioral level but also in terms of neural activity. For example, in a recent paper, she showed, together with her team, that it is possible to detect from neural activity at rest what type of stance people would later take towards a robot. In another paper, she and her team examined the impact of robot gaze on human performance and they showed that robot gaze is treated like a social signal which affects efficiency in task and decision making strategies.
In addition to the InStance project, Prof. Wykowska’s research is focused on clinical applications of humanoid robots. Specifically, in collaboration with the Genovese branch of the Foundation Don Orione, Centro Boggiano Pico, her team has developed protocols for robot-assisted training of social skills for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The results of this training show that using humanoid robots in training for ASD can be an extremely promising avenue helping and assisting this clinical population.
Overall, the research of Prof. Wykowska carried out at the Italian Institute of Technology contributes to the human-centered design of robots that one day will be assisting us in daily tasks, and supporting us in educational and healthcare activities.