Government Spends Half Million Dollars on Robots That Read to Children

John Vibes
October 6, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) The National Science Foundation is spending $440,885 on a new project that will put storytelling robots in the classroom. It is uncertain how these robots will be any better than human teachers, but they will be tested during a 9-month study led by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal, an associate professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT.

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According to the study’s grant“Early language ability, including vocabulary skills and oral language knowledge during preschool, is an important predictor of children’s academic success in subsequent school years. Social robots that can engage children as personalized learning companions hold great promise in augmenting the learning experience of children with parents and teachers.”

The grant goes on to state:

“The ultimate goal is to foster the development, learning and promotion of academic achievements and the well-being of children. Such robots offer unique opportunities of guided, personalized and controlled social interaction during the delivery of a desired curriculum. They can play, learn and engage with children in the real world—physically, socially, and emotively. This research project develops and assesses the efficacy of an autonomous, personalized social robot that engages as a learning companion on the language development of pre-school children in the context of storytelling tasks. For this purpose, the research project develops a novel automatic story analysis tool, and a new personalized story generation algorithm, that pushes the envelope of current understanding of free-form storytelling and how fosters the development of early language skills in pre-school aged children.”

Breazeal, the lead researcher in the study, is also the founder of Jibo, Inc., a company that makes robots that are said to work like personal assistants, although they are very small and not humanoid in their design. It is not yet clear what motivated the government to spend such a large amount of money on something that can easily be done by a human.

Could teachers be entirely replaced with robots someday? How would you feel about your children being taught by a robot in public schools?

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