Researchers from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Arizona are creating a "roboceptionist" that speaks Arabic and English and is culturally attuned to whomever she's conversing with. She's a regular Maxima Headroom.
Professors Reid Simmons of Carnegie Mellon and Sandiway Fong of UA are building Hala for Carnegie Mellon's campus in Qatar. CMU will work on the robotics, whereas UA will develop Hala's linguistics. Hala is designed to be both bilingual and bicultural — she's programmed to understand culturally mores and idioms. Hala also possesses her own unique personality, which I can only assume is a cross between Cortana from Halo and Andross from Star Fox.
Yup, our technology is now starting to resemble that of the Fantastic Four's Baxter Building. From the University of Arizona:
Fong said a bicultural robot is not one that merely switches between English and Arabic, Hala's current format, but also has both modes simultaneously active in order to spot and deal with potential cultural ambiguities and misunderstandings.
"You may speak Arabic, but you may choose to converse with the robot in English," said Fong. "You may be conversing with the sensibility and the cultural background and the idioms from the Arabic world. This robot needs to understand both."
The phrase "week after week," for example, "I'm looking for the group that meets week after week" means "every week" in English. But in some Arabic dialects it can mean "every other week." Only a robot that is simultaneously facile with both lexicons can compute that this phrase is subject to cultural variation and can ask the user for clarification.
Culture affects not only the syntax and semantics of an interaction, but also the structure of the interaction, from the way greetings and closings are performed, to the form of the language used to politeness strategies.
"In American culture, we quickly greet someone and then we tend to get down to business," said Fong. "In Arab cultures, it is rude to actually get down to business right away. There is much more turn-taking in greetings. Hala will know this."
Hala, who has a built-in backstory and personality, will adjust responses based on cues from the visitor, essentially building a model of the user throughout the interaction: Is this person high-status? Is this person American? Is this person in a hurry?
[Spotted on Kurzweil AI]