Furhat bridges the gap between man and machine

Furhat bridges the gap between man and machine

Ulrika Mann

Ulrika Mann,

What if we could interact with technology the way we interact with each other? Social Artificial Intelligence might be the missing link between man and machine. By studying cognitive processes, Preben Wik and his team work to make machines appear more human. Time to say hello to award-winning robot Furhat.

“Is he talking to me? Does he look friendly? Should I say something?”

How do you make a computer interface capable of understanding complex questions like the ones above? Preben Wik, Director of Market Creation and Collaborations at Furhat Robotics, seeks solutions to these questions. He is driven by a vision to build an interface that is psychologically closer to humans, that is using the full spectrum of human communication – voice, gestures, feelings, etc. – and fueled by so called social AI.

“Social AI isn’t the type of AI we usually talk about, but to make machines come to life we have to look at animal’s cognitive processes,” says Preben Wik. “For example, what is needed to be conscious? What is needed to give the impression of being conscious? We are the human face of AI.”

Socially intelligent
The robot Furhat was born after years of research and development at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. By incorporating social AI, the plastic mask comes to life. Furhat acts and appears more like a human, and instead of being a plain interface with buttons and menus, it becomes a socially intelligent participant; co-presence.

Furhat’s face uses computer animation with expressiveness and customizability. Its brain is powered by a conversational intelligence platform which makes it possible to build highly sophisticated and socially-aware spoken interactions. It can also be connected to a number of sensors and any type of back-end for information queries, equipping it with superpowers.

Several applications
So, where can Furhat be used? Anywhere where social intelligence is at core of the application, and where swiping and clicking just isn’t good enough. Furhat is available as a development platform for researchers and developers to build upon.

“Currently, Furhat is part of applications for healthcare projects at the hospitals Karolinska sjukhuset and Södersjukhuset, and two schools in the Stockholm area have Furhats in a pilot project for schools,” says Preben Wik. “We have also sold Furhat to several companies, like Disney, Honda, Merck, Intel and KPMG, who all are looking into the big questions of digitization. We honestly believe social robots will revolutionize how people interact with technology.”