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March 23, 2008

Self-Experimenters: Can 200,000 Hours of Baby Talk Untie a Robot’s Tongue?

Deb Roy wants to make robots smarter by getting them to imitate his kid
By Nikhil Swaminathan

When Deb Roy and his wife have overnight guests that might encounter their two-and-a-half-year-old son—the couple is withholding his name to protect his privacy—the first thing they do is ask their visitors to fill out a consent form. Unusual, for sure, but the couple is merely trying to make people aware that their actions and voices may be captured by the 11 fish-eye cameras and 14 microphones hidden around their Cambridge, Mass., home listening in on nearly every sound their son has ever uttered.

The two main goals of the setup: to understand how children acquire language and use the intelligence gleaned to teach robots to talk.


Winter Soldiers Sound Off

By Dahr Jamail, April 2008 Issue

Jason Moon suffers from persistent insomnia as he wrestles with memories of his time in Iraq. “While on our initial convoy into Iraq in early June 2003, we were given a direct order that if any children or civilians got in front of the vehicles in our convoy, we were not to stop, we were not to slow down, we were to keep driving,” says the former National Guard and Army Reserve member. “In the event an insurgent attacked us from behind human shields, we were supposed to count. If there were thirty or less civilians we were allowed to fire into the area. If there were over thirty, we were supposed to take fire and send it up the chain of command. These were the rules of engagement. I don’t know about you, but if you are getting shot at from a crowd of people, how fast are you going to count, and how accurately?”


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