Japanese boffins build robot receptionist
Japanese boffins have come up with what they say could become the world's first robot receptionist. The scientists working on the Erato Kitano Symbiotic System Project  say they have developed a robot that can pick up human voices, even with background noise.
"Sig" (named, presumably, after the Symbiotic Intelligence Group that built it) can also turn its head toward the sound. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the future is already with us. Sig can't actually do much else: but think of the possibilities!
It has microphones stuck on its head and uses a revolutionary new technique that compares the loudness of voices through the different microphones to work out where someone is (like ears!). It then uses image-recognition to identify who it's looking at. Sadly though it doesn't have any arms. Or lower body come to that. It's a humanoid torso. To check out pics and see the spec go here .
Try to dampen your rampant excitement though because Sig is just one in an increasingly long line of PR-garnering robots which perform closely-controlled tasks and give the illusion of having greater significance.
The team, led by Sony researcher Hiroaki Kitano, will tell an Artificial Intelligence conference in the US this week exactly what it has managed to do. The Erato project was set up to research intelligence with the aim of building electronic networks that can perform the same tasks as biological systems (brains). As such, it has been knocking out a range of robots specifically designed to test particular perceptions.
While this may be a step in the right direction for intelligent artificial beings, it is a very small one. Plus, of course, the real tough job is not getting something to respond to one stimulus but getting it to pick up several and understand what they all mean in context to one another.
The sight of a robot receptionist is still some way off however: they haven't even started research on how to make a robot snide, stubborn, mocking or unhelpful. ®