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On Tuesday 27 February we welcomed Koen Hindriks on the Spot. He was interviewed by ASCoR director Jochen Peter on the topic of social robots. With the rapid changes in artificial intelligence, several experts predict that these robots will change our lives dramatically. Still, we know little about them.

Koen Hindriks
Photo by Jern Ken Chew

What is the point of investing in robotics, Jochen asked as opening question. Why should we care? ‘Originally, because robots could help us with tasks that we don’t like to do ourselves’, Koen replied.  ‘Tasks that may be dirty, dangerous or dull. And now, there is also a social element when it comes to robotics. They are able to interact with humans and can even express emotions.’

At the same time, Koen emphasized that no matter how advanced robotic technologies become, humans should still oversee the process and stay in charge behind the scenes. ‘A robot that assists elderly citizens can be helpful’, Koen said. ‘But we should always make sure that there is a hand-over between man and machine. We call that: responsible robotics. After all, robots will still never be able to have real empathy.’ Ken explained that robots that express emotions, do so in response to how humans express themselves, and what they project onto the robots in the first place. In that sense, it’s like putting a mirror in front of people.

As the conversation drew to a close, Koen challenged the student audience, the future generation of communication scientists, to help reshape the current narrative on robots. According to him, this narrative is still too often based on science fiction, particularly thanks to well-known movies such as The Terminator.

Written by Evelien Flink

About Koen Hindriks

Koen Hindriks is Associate Professor in the Interactive Intelligence group at Delft University of Technology and CEO of the spin-off Interactive Robotics. His work on Artificial Intelligence focuses on cognitive robotics and he has published more than 150 papers on cognitive agent technology. Interaction between man and robot is at the heart of his research and drives the goals of his company. He has developed robots as companions and assistants for healthcare and education, and is developing service robots for business solutions.