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Could that special person in your life be a robot?

Love isn’t just for humans.

AS HUMAN BEINGS, emotions are at the heart of practically all our interactions – but what about our interactions with technology?

Well, anyone who’s witnessed a “friend” (ahem) fall victim to the charms of a shiny new Mac or become worryingly obsessed with Twitter will know the answer to that.

But it’s not just adults who cultivate fondness for lumps of plastic and wiry bits; experiments have shown that children, too, can develop deep emotional attachments to robotic playmates.

Now, researchers from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK are investigating whether such behaviour could become reciprocal.

As it stands, most cognitive robots operate based on what is going on around them in real time. However, the EU-funded ALIZ-E project aims to change that by expanding the human-robot interaction over a range days, rather than minutes.

Recognising that the key to long-term interaction is “having a personalised adaptive memory storing experiences and interaction episodes”, researchers aim to implement memory systems in robots.

If successful, the research being carried out will be practically applied by moving the test robots out of the laboratory and having them interact with young users.

Children at a paediatric department at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan have been selected for the proposed interactions, so researchers can explore whether such robots can “engage and maintain the child’s interest during play by tailoring its own behaviour to the child’s individual use of language, speech patterns, body language and play preferences”.

In a memo released today on the EU’s website said:

It will be hard to address many of Europe’s coming challenges without use of robotics: an energy and resource-efficient economy, enabling workers with valuable experience to keep contributing, increasing independent living for elderly people, protecting against external and internal threats to security – all require robotic assistance. Robotics innovations will help European manufacturing stay competitive against global competition.

It reported that robotics contributes more than €3 billion to the European economy each year at present, and also has the potential to create new jobs.

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