Earlier in the year Roborei caught up with Maha Salem from the university of Hertfordshire. She is one of the founding members of the British HRI symposium and has now been selected to become a Google employee.
Hi Maha can you introduce yourself to our readers and what you do on a daily basis.
My name is Maha Salem, and in 2012 I completed my PhD in Social Robotics and Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) working on the generation and evaluation of gesture and synchronised speech for the Honda ASIMO robot. Subsequently, I worked as a Research Associate at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, where I conducted research on cultural differences in HRI, before joining the University of Hertfordshire, UK, as a Research Fellow in the School of Computer Science. My academic background is highly multidisciplinary and combines a broad range of research interests including multimodal communication, non-verbal expressiveness and motor control, safety and trust, as well as cultural differences in Human-Machine Interaction
What was the driving force behind setting up the HRI Symposium.
HRI is a quickly growing and very interdisciplinary field. There are a number of regular annual conferences relevant to the field, however, these usually target only a particular type of paper submissions (i.e. mostly reporting on completed empirical studies or evaluated technical systems), while the field itself is much broader. In order to help the rapidly evolving research area of HRI to develop, the “New Frontiers in HRI” symposia were run in 2009 and 2010, as well as in 2014 and 2015 in conjunction with the AISB convention. The symposium encourages submissions in a variety of categories and provides extended discussion slots to foster exchange between members of the community, thus giving this event a unique character.
What new ideas did you discover at the HRI Symposium
New insights and ideas at this year’s HRI symposium were manifold, touching topics such as robots’ impact on human performance, ethical issues in HRI, verbal & non-verbal behaviours including facial expressions and emotions, as well as robot perception and acceptance. Our two keynote speakers stimulated discussions related to robots’ roles in healthcare: Prof. Angelika Peer (Bristol Robotics Laboratory) shed light onto potential scenarios in which robots could act as remote medical diagnosticians that may also perform physical examinations, whereas the talk by Prof. Mark Coeckelbergh (De Montfort University) offered a more philosophical perspective on ethical challenges that we might face as a result of making robots more human-like while automating more and more human skills.
What will be the biggest advancements in the next 3 years in HRI
I would not be able to name a single biggest advancement to be expected in HRI in the next 3 years, as I think there will be many important advancements taking place simultaneously at various levels of HRI (e.g. physical advancements regarding robots’ locomotion abilities when walking on uneven surfaces or even getting up after falling versus cognitive/AI advancements based on machine learning techniques).
Which companies/organisations are pioneering the developments
Honda, Aldebaran, Willow Garage, Fraunhofer Institute, iRobot, Google are some of the companies and organisations that have/had a significant impact on the developments in this field, but I think in the future we will see more and more start-up companies that will make important contributions to HRI
What are the aims and goals for your next meeting
We aim to establish this event as a regular annual symposium series that will hopefully attract increasing numbers of high-quality international submissions, as it is a great way to present ideas, exchange visions and promote discussions among different people from the community.
Will robots take over the world
Will robots take all our jobs
I don’t think so, and I generally think that it would take more than AI and machine learning for this fear to come true. My guess would be that in the future humans and robots will work increasingly collaboratively together, for example in healthcare, a human carer could have more time to interact socially with an elderly person while the robot performs most of the physical work such as cleaning the house. Maybe the emerging use of robots will teach us to appreciate and focus more on values and characteristics that make us human, e.g. creativity and genuine empathy, and encourage us to increasingly apply these skills in our jobs.
And finally your opinion on driverless cars
Provided they get to be “safe enough”, driverless cars will offer fantastic opportunities for people who are currently unable to actively participate in car-based traffic, e.g. due to physical limitations such as disabilities, therefore offering these people greater independence and mobility. Considering current issues such as drivers’ fatigue, insecure drivers, drink-driving etc., I would anticipate decreasing numbers of car accidents in countries where cars drive mostly autonomously in the future.
Hopefully you have enjoyed the interview and we would like to wish Maha all the best with her new position at Google.
The Roborei Team