If Personal Robots Were Cuter

If Personal Robots Were Cuter
If Personal Robots Were Cuter - Sharifa Alghowinem, a research scientist in Media Lab's Personal Robots Group, poses with her friendly robot friend Jibo, developed by Professor Cynthia Breazeal. Credits:Photo: Gretchen Ertl

At the Media Lab, a research scientist named Sharifa Alghowinem is researching personal robot technology that can explain emotions in both English and Arabic.

Sharifa Alghowinem, a research scientist in the Personal Robotics Group (PRG) at the MIT Media Lab, remembers that as a young child, she wanted a robot that could explain other people's emotions to her. While growing up in Saudi Arabia, Alghowinem says he dreamed of one day going to MIT to work on Arabic-based technologies and build a robot that could help himself and others in a complex environment.

In his early years, Alghowinem had trouble picking up on social cues and never did well on standardized tests, but his dreams helped him overcome all of this.

He graduated with a bachelor's degree in computing before leaving home to pursue postgraduate studies in Australia. It wasn't until she came to MIT as a postdoc with an Ibn Khaldun Fellowship for Saudi Arabian Women in the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering that she was finally able to work on a technology that had the potential to explain others' emotions in English and Arabic. She first discovered emotional computing at the Australian National University and began working to help artificial intelligence detect human emotions and moods. She now refers to the laboratory as "my playground" because she finds her work so enjoyable.

An innovative initiative is too good to refuse for Alghowinem. Working with Jibo, an adorable robot companion created by Cynthia Breazeal, an MIT professor and dean of digital learning who also founded the Personal Robotics Group (PRG) and the social robot company Jibo Inc., is a challenge that has huge potential to make robots more useful to humans. It gave him a great opportunity to find the robot. Breazeal's research examines the possibility that companion robots are much more than transactional assistants that carry out instructions, such as asking about the weather or adding items to shopping lists or arranging lights. The PRG team at MIT Media Lab created Jibo to develop it as an insightful coach and companion to promote social robotics technologies and research. Jibo's adorable personality is also accessible to guests at the MIT Museum.

Alghowinem's research has focused on the treatment and education of mental health problems, often in collaboration with other graduate students and Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program participants. In one study, Jibo used positive psychology to coach people both young and old. She modified her treatments based on the verbal and nonverbal responses she noticed in her subjects. For example, Jibo combined nonverbal cues, such as long pauses and self-hugging, with verbal cues in the participant's speech. If it detects that intense emotions are being revealed, Jibo reacts with empathy. Jibo asks “Can you tell me more?” when the participant does not share. Follows up gently with a question like she.

Another study examined the effectiveness of a robot in supporting parent and child relationships while reading a book together. PRG research is coming together to determine what kind of information is needed for a robot to understand people's social and emotional states.

“I want Jibo to be a friend for the whole family,” says Alghowinem. Jibo can serve a variety of functions for different family members, such as a playmate for children or a senior who needs to be reminded to take their medication. What drives Alghowinem most is the distinctive role Jibo can play in supporting mental health and serving as a tool to prevent depressive disorder and even suicide. When integrated into daily life, Jibo has the ability to recognize and take action on new concerns as they arise, serving as a dedicated resource or mental health coach.

In addition to using robots, Alghowinem is also passionate about mentoring and training others. He makes a point of meeting one-on-one once a week with each of the students he supports, and earlier this year he played a key role in bringing two undergraduates from Prince Sultan University in Saudi Arabia to MIT. Her efforts to have the two students travel to MIT together so they could support each other were motivated by her awareness of their social-emotional experiences. Tasneem Burghleh, one of the visiting students, stated that she wanted to meet the person who went above and beyond to provide opportunities for strangers, and that she found in him “an endless desire that makes him want to pass this on and give it to others.”

Alghowinem's next effort is to provide opportunities for Syrian refugee youth. The idea is to equip social robots to teach children English social-emotional and language skills, while also providing activities to preserve their cultural heritage and Arabic skills. Fundraising efforts are still ongoing.

According to Alghowinem, the foundation was laid by ensuring that Jibo could speak Arabic and some other languages ​​fluently. Now I'm hoping we can figure out how to make Jibo really useful for kids like me who need help learning how to relate to their environment.

Source: MIT News

📩 14/09/2023 12:25