Welcome to June here in our Education Platform. We present the following Random Thoughts Courtesy Abundance360 Digital, Vala Afshar, and The National Academy of Sciences:
Can robots be socially and emotionally intelligent?
Embodied, Inc. is a company I’m super excited about to serve this objective. They recently launched a robot called “Moxie” that combines cutting-edge technology to help children develop emotional and social skills. (Full disclosure: I’m an advisor to Embodied’s Founder and CEO Paolo Pirjanian.)
In an age of exponential change, how do we raise our children, especially if they have learning disabilities or are socially isolated? How do we give them the emotional, social, and cognitive skills they need to navigate a complex, ever-changing world?
Moxie, a small, Pixar-like robot with large-eyes on a cute and dynamic virtual face converses with children in a natural, lifelike manner, becoming a personalized companion to them.
Think about how valuable an “imaginary friend” is for many children.
Now, Moxie can be their companion as they learn, grow, and develop themselves.
In fact, the embodied aspect of Moxie makes it a far more effective method of education. Looking across 65 different studies comparing embodied vs non-embodied (screen-like) teachers, the embodied agents outperformed the others in nearly 80% of the studies.
In today’s blog, I’m going to give you an overview of Embodied, how the company’s new robot Moxie works, and what this means for the future of robotics, education, and human-machine interaction.
Let’s dive in…
NOTE: Understanding how to use Exponential Tech like Robotics to transform education and personal development is a key focus area during my year-round Abundance360 coaching program.
WHAT IS EMBODIED? WHO IS MOXIE?
Embodied is using the latest research on human-machine interaction and child development to facilitate better and more healthy growth and learning in children—especially those with social, emotional, or cognitive issues.
For Embodied Founder and CEO Paolo Pirjanian, creating robots that can be human companions and help us emotionally was a childhood dream. He brings 16 years of experience commercializing robots: from his work at iRobot, to his work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Moxie is Paolo’s childhood dream and Moonshot realized.
Moxie’s novel approach involves using an embodied, physical robot whose content and interactions are personalized for each child. This allows for tracking progress across key social and emotional skills—the stuff we commonly call EQ or soft skills.
For example, Moxie can help children learn how to express kindness. A child will interact with the robot for 15 - 20 minutes, and during that time Moxie will teach the child some techniques for being kind. The child will then be prompted to use those techniques with their family or friends, and the next day the child can have a conversation with Moxie about what they learned from the experience.
As Paolo puts it, Moxie isn’t meant to be a destination in itself, but a “springboard to the real world.”
Yet future versions of Moxie will likely go beyond just child development and wellness.
Paolo sees issues such as loneliness and social isolation as problems across all age groups, and for many people this has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where is Moxie going next? Likely to benefit and provide companionship to the elderly, and eventually therapy to people of all ages in a variety of contexts.
When Paolo was visiting his mother during the pandemic, and showed her Moxie, her immediate reaction was “I NEED A MOXIE”… “I’m going crazy from being alone.”
HOW EXACTLY DOES MOXIE WORK?
Moxie, which is about the size of a baby, has a Pixar-like curved-screen virtual face, allowing the robot to be more readily accepted as a “friend” than robots with more humanoid designs.
MOXIE ROBOT: Source Embodied, Inc.
Importantly, Moxie doesn’t try to be too human or perfect—in fact, that’s where many other robotics companies have failed. Robots that are close to human-like, but not quite, fall into what is known as the “uncanny valley.” This is the uneasy feeling we get from looking at a virtual or robotic face when something seems “off.”
Moxie also distinguishes itself from other robots in how it interacts with you, using a conversation engine that’s more complex than other robots on the market.
For example, Alexa and Google Home each have a “wake word” and listen to a voice from one specific direction. But Moxie is listening all the time from any direction.
You can continuously talk to it (as opposed to simply saying “Hi, Alexa”), and the AI knows to take turns when conversing, allowing for fluid conversation and storytelling.
Meanwhile, Moxie’s visual AI allows it to track and observe the user in real-time, enabling it to have a more focused and engaged interaction.
Moxie also has a few other key human-like elements: it makes mistakes and learns.
Rather than a full prebuilt chatbot, Moxie has an actual personality and will learn over the course of an interaction. New interactions “unlock” new content and behaviors, further engaging the child in a goal-oriented manner.
The AI in Moxie is built with a tech stack that is 70-80% proprietary. It includes a language model that is similar to OpenAI’s GPT-3 model, but much smaller. The latest GPT-3 model has ~175 billion machine learning parameters, whereas Moxie runs on a model with ~1.8 billion parameters.
This smaller language model enables Moxie to run on low-cost processors, but the impact of this approach and design goes far beyond cost efficiency.
As one parent recently told Embodied, “My son already personifies Moxie as a living, thinking being.”
Eventually, Moxie could use something like Google’s recently unveiled language model with a trillion parameters, making the depth of conversation and interaction even more interesting and lifelike.
If Moxie is already a believable, living entity to a 5-year old, then imagine the possibilities when models with a thousand times more parameters than Moxie come to market.
As Paolo points out, “I think in the next 3 to 5 years we will have solutions that will be believable to all of us.”
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF HUMAN-MACHINE INTERACTION
The robots are coming, the robots are coming!
In fact, the robots are here.
From education and elder care to avatars and personal assistants, machines are transforming how we interact with the world and each other.
But there’s a forest through these trees: it’s not just robots.
It’s the convergence of robots with other exponential technologies. It’s also an electric skin of sensors smashing against neural net–powered AIs in the cloud that are bashing into a growing swarm of deftly nimble and increasingly intelligent robots.
Moxie marks a deeper transformation in how we interact with technology, as well as the rise of social robots.
As Embodied Founder Paolo puts it, Moxie is “the Pong” of this new industry.
We are just at the beginning.