tv The Next List CNN December 25, 2011 11:30am-12:00pm PST
and resistance and sometimes those passions, they come about quite by accident. other times it's as if they were born to do it. they are a unique collection of people coming from all sorts of different worlds but they have this one thing in common, they are all agents of change and that's what earns them a spot on "the next list." i'm dr. sanjay gupta. welcome to the next list. i'm dr. sanjay gupta. you're about to meet heather knight. you're about to meet heather. a robotist with an edge. she's teaching her robot to do stand-up comedy, perform dance moves, even recite shakespeare. there's a point to all this fun. heather wants to better understand what makes people feel connected to technology and for heather, the secret lies in this little robot. this is "the next list," everyone you meet is a force in their field.
they are agents of change and that's why they're on "the next list." >> my name is heather and i am a researcher at carnegie-mellon university and study social robotics. >> they call me data, the robot. gosh, i love saying that. >> social robotist is someone that makes robots that can interact with people in a human way. when i tell people i make robots, they're usually like wow, that's really cool. and when i tell people i make social robots, usually they're a little confused at first. and i found that the best way to talk about what i actually do is by example. >> heather, how about you get working on that emotion program? >> we're trying. >> fair enough. >> usually when people think of robots, they can think of two
ends of the spectrum. one is these hollywood sort of terminator films or wall-e, fully interactive, like almost human in a different robot-shaped box sort of systems, and then on the other end of the spectrum, you have these machines that might plow our fields or put our packages in the mail or some -- coolest cases, rove around on the surface of mars. so when you talk about social robots, that's something that's actually somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. >> i am a robot, yes, a robot. if you pick us in our battery pack, do we not bleed our alkaline fluid? >> robots have a lot to learn, right? they're new to environment. they're an alien that's come down to our planet, they don't know our rules, grammar, our social structures. they're going to make a lot of mistakes.
humor can be a nice mistake from that. like, you know, like any like charming international student that doesn't quite speak our language has probably gotten away with a lot by sort of a little laughter at one's self. >> my programmer helps. one day i will be an autonomous robotic performer, like justin bieber or, perhaps, charlie sheen is a better choice. >> the first performer robot that i made was a stand-up comedian. and not knowing very much about comedy at the time, i thought it would be all about watching the audience. i thought the audience would define what humor was and every audience might have unique characters. >> hello. it's an honor to be here. you guys are looking good out there. ready for some jokes? >> yes. >> the first system i designed, the robot was watching and tracking their laughter, their applause, and i had given the
audience these feedback cards that could be red or green depending on how they liked something. it was very like -- i mean it was a robot that cared about other people, you know. like -- i don't know how many comedy shows you all have been to lately, but there are a lot of ways to do comedy. >> so, a doctor says to his patient, i have bad news and worse news. the bad news is that you only have 24 hours to live. that's terrible, said the patient. how can the news possibly be worse? i've been trying to contact you since yesterday. >> so i wanted to see a world where we actually have useful robots that positively impact our lives. >> my programmer designs my presentations, with the goal of driving innovation and social robotics, which is the integration of robot helpers into everyday life. so you might as well get used to this.
>> something that is important is actually getting these machines out into the world with real people and so it's awesome that engineers know how to build stuff. we're really good at that. i think that we can also learn a lot from artists about making stuff that people really care about. >> something has gotten ahold of me. ♪ >> so when i make social robots i'm trying to think about new spaces of applications for technology in our everyday lives in ways that were never possible before, before you come up with some of this new capacity for them to understand us. new ways for them to communicate with us. that was awesome. ♪ >> thank you, everybody. man, he loves an audience.
my high school science teacher made me what i am today. our science teacher helped us build it. ♪ now i'm a geologist at chevron, and i get to help science teachers. it has four servo motors and a wireless microcontroller. over the last three years we've put nearly 100 million dollars into american education. that's thousands of kids learning to love science. ♪ isn't that cool? and that's pretty cool. ♪ you know, typical alarm clock. i am so glad to get rid of it. just to be able to wake up in the morning on your own. that's a big accomplishment to me. i don't know how much money i need. but i know that whatever i have that's what i'm going to live within. ♪
in heather's version of robotics, getting the gestures right is a really big deal. who better to teach these gestures than a real acting professor? together, they've programmed data in a way that almost makes it seem like he's alive. >> roll film and then roll up on the count of five. one, two, three, four, five. good. >> people have spent entire careers like lifetimes thinking about what gesture means thinking about how to tap into an audience, how to make a believable interaction on stage. so as we explore this realm of social robotics for the first time, i believe that collaborating with performers and with different artists can actually help us bootstrap the development and the creation of these technologies. >> roll forward, stretch the
fingers and arms down. there you go. excellent. >> my name is matthew gray, i'm assistant professor of acting at northeastern university in boston, massachusetts. i met heather when i went to a meeting called dork thought. before i met her, her robot data was sitting, looking pensive at his toes on the stage. i suddenly realized that was the actor i wanted to play hamlet. i've wanted to direct hamlet for a long time. it culminated in this idea we had of what if we could teach data, acting lessons, the way that some human actors ask for acting lessons. we started with this idea of a simple action that's understandable, like the word to push. right, data? >> that is easy for you to say. but i am a robot. >> data, you performed in front of hundreds of people.
you know exactly what i'm talking about. >> don't get stage fright now. >> exactly. come on, let's try some. to push. >> was that okay? >> that was great. >> what i found that i've learned through working with heather is actually my own misconceptions about robotics. i had assumed that well, robots are repeatable. and infinitely repeatable so they don't make mistakes. one of the first things i learned from working with heather and data there are wonderful idiosyncrasies to each robot, each iteration processes at a slightly different speed, which to me makes data sort of wonderfully, not hugely, but wonderfully simply neurotic tool to a degree. there was something sort of wonderful about realizing even robots aren't perfect.
>> are you all right, data? we have to warm up. >> it's not that no one knew that gesture had meaning before. what's new is that i don't think that many robotists were thinking about tapping into this particular body of knowledge to apply them to robots before. so, forging that connection actually makes whole new things possible in terms of the success of our social robots in general and so one of the goals of research is uncovering some of those unknowns. or uncovering new things, new ways to do things, which is often combinations of stuff that already exists. that's one of the beautiful things about looking across different fields, sometimes there already exists methods, for example, in biology or in my case obviously in the arts, that absolutely apply to the problem
you're trying to solve. if you just look outside of your own little circle. >> next stop is the story of how heather and i met and no, it was not at a bar. forty years ago, he wasn't worried about retirement. he'd yet to hear of mutual funds, iras, or annuities. back then, he had something more important to do. he wasn't focused on his future but fortunately, somebody else was. at usaa we provide retirement solutions for our military,
♪ so, i -- that could be playful. so i'm a robot. i was born in a factory just outside of boston. okay. not really. i'm a person. but i do get asked that sometimes. but yeah, so i grew up in lexington, massachusetts, home of american revolution. my mother's family were irish immigrants, so that's always fun having that sort of history and my dad is from texas and he's a engineer. my mom speaks a million language, works in non-profits most of life and really cares about impacting the world. yeah, my dad's like super smart and like really an amazing engineer. somehow i fell a little bit in between the two of them.
my mom's really, really outgoing and my dad's more introverted, really cares about his family and stuff. i always wanted to make ing at the technology. the idea that you can build something that has never existed before. you come up with something, poof. not exactly, right? yeah, that's cool. that's an empowering thing. i wanted to make sure when i went home, my mom would be like, so, where is that technology going? but that it was something that people would care about, that people could understand, and that could have real impact. so yeah. i liked making technology that makes people's lives better. i didn't fall in love with robots themselves until i was in college. i had been deciding in high school between being a writer and being an engineer. like i always liked that sort of creative process and it's just sort of interesting after like years and years and years that i am starting to actually get to do storytelling with robots.
some ways i'm getting to author characters that physically exist in the world world and can do way more than just maybe what's on a page. when i was a freshman at m.i.t., i decided i wanted to get a campus job and i went home to my like living group or whatever and someone was like, hey, do you want to work in a robotics lab? i went into this lab and they were building these awesome social robots. it's like, there was something about social robots that captured my imagination and like from the first project that we did in that lab, we had built this interactive ter rarium. there was a robot that didn't look like a person, almost had like a hand sort of thing at the top. if there were people around suddenly that sort of hand becomes a face. not that it had eyes, just in how it's acting and checks out the people along the way. curious.
simple behavior system but one we get right away. people would come by. felt like epcot center. sometimes oh, wow, they wave a lot, get too excited, comes too close, it gets scared and runs back. right. it was simple, right. but if you design the behavior system like be that, like that's something there's no speech, like but it's totally you just understand right away. it was fun watching people interact with that. from the very beginning, i always got to be able to create robots people cared about and were installed in places where i could watch that interaction. yeah, that was really fun. and when you see people laugh or when you see their eyes light up, that definitely makes you want to keep doing what you're doing. ♪ could i imagine a time in my life where i wasn't making social robots? it's really hard, right.
like i tried. i did. when i finished my masters, i like -- you know, got a job with nasa. that's cool. like the jet propulsion laboratory outside of los angeles, and we're like building space systems and i was like, this should be really cool. but there's no people. it's like not on another planet, but like out, you know, it's cool, it's interesting, i love that space can inspire people, but i had to come back. >> heather got the social robotics bug, so to speak. so she left nasa's jet propulsion lab and launched into the world of social robotics full time. there she met data, and the rest, as they say, is history. >> i think maybe my story with data is illustrative. i was working for the french company that creates these robots, el deberon, and they basically lent me a robot for several months.
basically, it was like that puppy syndrome, right. they're like you can just take it for a night. like my -- you know, i was about to start grad school again, time for me to give the robot back. i kept pushing it off. call one week, another week, one month went by. heather, we want our robot back. eventually i was like you know what, i can't give it away. i ended up buying it. and then, you know, our little robot comedy duo was born. >> do you want to know [ if i will one day rule the world? heather explains coming up next. we need to teach her how to walk. she is taking up valuable cart space. aren't you, honey? [ male announcer ] it's our biggest clearance event of the year starting at 6am december 26th. save money. live better. walmart.
i would say there's a couple things that are possible to play with when you start thinking about the social intelligence of machines. we can make applications for robots or for interfaces that are in our everyday life that are effective. >> heather, help me with my stylish scarf. >> i think that as designers, the idea of being able to take robots out into the wild and to do not all of our testing and standardized laboratory environments but out where the people are that we're designing for. >> ready. >> oops. >> show me a postcard. >> i'm very excited about our future where we have robots in our everyday life. i think entertainment robots are probably one of the first application that could be fruitful because they can pay for themselves if you have a big audience of people on stage. i think that artists use the medium of their time and right now that medium is technology. i think it's a new interface for being creative. >> times square. home of the tourists.
a lot of those in new york. well now, any of you tourists? >> one of the things that's important to me is to create technology that brings us together and doesn't divide us. i have this crazy idea that maybe we could come to a world where we replace not people by robots, but computers by robots. like how about making technology more human and i think in effect, that will also make us more able to fulfill our own objectives and connect with each other. >> have you seen the naked cowboy? he plays the guitar in his underwear in a cowboy hat. sorry, i forget those props today. but he moves like this. ♪ yep just shaking his booty. tourists love that guy. >> there's something about a cubicle, something about a screen and sitting in the same place all day, that is really
new in modern society, and it's not really very natural. i don't know if that allows us to achieve everything that we might be able to. but i would dream that there is possibility to still have that same access to the benefits of it technology, but by providing a different vehicle of delivering that. it technology is a device for accomplishing goals. it's something that makes life potentially easier or it makes life better. in the end, i want to create applications for people that, for example, could empower the elderly to stay in their homes for longer in a way that's actually safe. whether it's helping them with certain functions. at the same time, increasing their freedom not like you have to take this pill right now. it could be like to start have these variables where it's tracking like okay, they were supposed to do that, but they
haven't done it for a while, maybe i can think about a different approach that will make them more likely to do that. robots have already been helping with the nuclear disaster cleanup in japan. we're still in pretty early stages of development, but there were some robots that came to look for search and rescue victims at the 9/11 site and there's been tons of investment since then, even for disasters like hurricane irene. >> my audience, i have a confession. i am a tourist too. i've only been in the city a few months and i am french. >> i don't want to live in a world where people are replaced by robots, but i do believe that human robot teams can accomplish things that humans alone or robots alone would never be able to accomplish any time in the short term. >> i am sorry if you feel
betrayed. but i am actually comfortable with my condition. even a robot can dream. >> in the end i think it's really about making people flourish. >> pretty inspiring stuff, thanks, folks. sanjay, take it away. i have a hot date with a gal named siri. >> thanks, data. heather knight is one of these innovators who is taking the field of robotics and making it really fun. she's also part of a unique group of people who are driven to do more with what they love doing. sometimes they find that passion quite by accident, and other times, it's as if they were born to do nothing else. in the end, though, they are all agents of change and that's what earns them a spot on this show. for more on this episode and other agents of change, go to cnn.com/thenextlist and join me on my life's team, cnn.com/sanjay.