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Robots are using wikiHow to figure out how to cook us breakfast

RoboHow/Michael Memminger
Flipping out.
  • Mike Murphy
By Mike Murphy

Technology editor

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

If there’s anything you’ve ever needed to know how to do, from building a birdhouse to tying a bowtie to dressing like a “pastel goth,” you’ve probably ended up on wikiHow. Now, robots are using the user-generated advice site to learn how to do all sorts of tasks for us—including making pancakes and pizza.

RoboHow, a group of robotics researchers from multiple European universities, are trying to teach robots how to cook, among other things, MIT Technology Review reported. The robots learn, like most budding cooks these days, through a combination of being shown how to make something by a knowledgable human, and then parsing information from how-to websites and videos, just to make sure.

RoboHow’s robot, the PR2, scans the text of wikiHow and other sites to find the information it needs to complete the task it’s been given. It analyzes the language meant for humans into something it can act upon, in a process called semantic parsing.

It’s similar to how IBM’s Watson can take streams of data and turn it into cancer diagnosis recommendations, or make fantasy football recommendations. But hopefully these robots aren’t hooked up with Watson’s cooking division, Chef Watson, or we’ll be in for a brave new world of really weird-tasting robotic food in the future.

There are extra challenges when it comes to teaching robots how to cook. Humans amass a certain amount of general knowledge from just getting on with their lives—we don’t need to be taught how to hold a spatula or a frying pan, as we’ve held similarly shaped objects before. A robot, on the other hand, needs to be taught everything, from the correct grip and right angle to hold a spatula, to opening a bottle, to what a pancake even is.

To make the process more scalable, the researchers at RoboHow are trying to build robots that can be taught general knowledge and apply that to specific tasks. Once a robot learns a task, like extracting chemicals from bottles in a lab, that knowledge is sent to a database that all the other RoboHow robots can access. This means that once one robot can make a decent pancake, all the robots should be able to cook you breakfast.

RoboHow/Michael Memminger
The robots have also mastered the art of making popcorn.

RoboHow’s goal is to create robots that can aid humans in their daily lives, which humans can interact with in much the same way they would with Apple’s Siri, but with less frustrating results, according to Die Welt (link in German). Michael Beetz, the head artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Bremen and a member of the RoboHow research group, told Die Welt that these robots may be ready in a decade.

Let’s hope the robots stick with the cooking sections of wikiHow; other popular wikiHow pages could distract them with instructions on how to kiss, how to get six-pack abs, or how to find out if someone likes them.

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