For better or worse, we’ve taught robots to mimic human behavior in countless ways. They can perform tasks as rudimentary as picking up objects, or as creative as dreaming their own dreams. They can identify bullying, and even play jazz. Now, we’ve taught robots the most human task of all: how to teach themselves to make Jell-O shots from watching YouTube videos.
Ever go to YouTube and type in something like, “How to make pancakes,” or, “How to mount a TV”? Sure you have. While many such tutorials are awful—and some are just deliberately misleading—the sheer number of instructional videos offers strong odds of finding one that’s genuinely helpful. And when all those videos are aggregated and analyzed simultaneously, it’s not hard for a robot to figure out what the correct steps are.
Researchers at Cornell University have taught robots to do just that with a system called RoboWatch. By watching and scanning multiple videos of the same “how-to” activity (with subtitles enabled), bots can identify common steps, put them in order, and learn how to do whatever the tutorials are teaching.
Robot learning is not new, but what’s unusual here is that these robots can learn without human supervision, as Phys.Org points out.
Similar research usually requires human overseers to introduce and explain words, or captions, for the robots to parse. RoboWatch, however, needs no human help, save that someone ensure all the videos analyzed fall into a single category (pdf). The idea is that a human could one day tell a robot to perform a task and then the robot would independently research and learn how to carry out that task.
So next time you getting frustrated watching a video on how to change a tire, don’t fret. Soon, a robot will do all that for you. We just have to make sure it doesn’t watch any videos about “how to take over the world.”