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What Will Robots Think of Us? (Mental Models)


Thumbnail of Science Robotics article What will robots think of us? about types and correctness of mental models

Two recent science fiction novels humorously illustrate the types and importance of correct robot mental models- see my Science Robotics article here or click the graphic.


What robots thinks of us is what roboticists call "mental models." The robot's mental model allows it to communicate and work effectively with humans as well as foster human trust because it allows the robot to detect and reason over a person's goals, beliefs, desires, and intentions (which we call BDI)-- essentially allows the robot to have a deep common ground with humans, which is essential for human-robot interaction. The real-world research summarized in an article by A. Tabrez, M.B. Luebbers, and B. A. Hayes describes 3 forms of mental models.


In terms of sci-fi, The Murderbot Diaries and The Wrong Unit are perfect illustrations of the real science and the sad, snarky reality that probably awaits us. Plus both are ROTFL because sci-fi points out that just because a robot has a mental model (any form), it is not guaranteed to be correct.


If you'd like to read more sci-fi about mental models, the article was originally envisioned as an end of the year retrospective, along the lines of what will robots think of us as they look back? The answers in sci-fi tend to fall into three categories:

  • that we’re idiots and need to be protected from ourselves (The Wrong Unit, Humanoids, With Folded Hands, Evitable Conflict, That Thou Art Mindful of Him)

  • that we’re idiots and them protecting us from ourselves isn’t helping (Murderbot Diaries, Mockingbird)

  • they miss us now that we’re gone (Robot Geneticists/Extinction Reversed, Sea of Rust)


You can read more about human-robot interaction in my book Learn AI and Human-Robot Interaction from Asimov's I, Robot stories.






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