Robo-goo-goo: Totbot replicates infant speech

Scientists have been racking their brains for years, trying to figure out how we learn to talk. Now they have created a “child-bot” that can learn to speak like a baby.

After a few minutes conversation with human “teachers”, the robot learns to understand the most frequently-heard syllables and is able to reproduce some basic words.

The study, published in the science journal PLoS One, has shed some light on how babies develop from babbling to saying their first words.

Scientists at the University of Hertfordshire in England built a three-foot-tall robot, which they christened DeeChee and which can reproduce any syllable in the English language.

The research used human volunteers to teach the robot simple words for colors and shapes.
At the beginning of the experiment DeeChee could only understand an unbroken stream of sounds, but was programmed to break them up and store them in its memory. Later on it could replicate words like “red” or “green” in the conversation.

DeeChee was also taught by the volunteers to recognize words of encouragement like “well done” and “good”.

The kid-bot could transform babble into coherent words in just a couple of minutes, the researchers found.

Caroline Lyon, one of the scientists behind the research, says that one of the reasons babies use nouns like “mama”, “dada” and “red” first is that they are easier to recognize than linking words like “of” and “at”, which are spoken in hundreds of different ways and can sound different to a new speaker.    Read more here


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