Situated Language Processing

One humanoid robot in a factory is about to be crushed by a falling box; the other is yelling, "Look Out!"I’ve had this image in my head for a bit and finally committed it to paper.  It’s about situated language processing: the idea that robots in physical environments need a lot of extra and interconnected Smarts.

The utterance “Look Out!” may mean different things depending upon the context in which it is uttered.  Here it means, “Jump out of the way,” but it could easily mean, “Stop everything and regard that gorgeous robot at the bar.”  Pragmatics is the study of how meaning of language varies according to context and how what is communicated is often not what is said on the surface.

Notice that the robot yelling the warning is pointing; this is a gestural mode of communication and serves to indicate the direction of the threat.  The robot-in-danger is attending to the speaker at the moment, to determine what relevance the speaker’s utterance has to herself.  In a few milliseconds, she needs to decide whether to continue sweeping, to look up to see what the robot is pointing at, or to dive out of the way.  (Spoiler, she dives out of the way, but the broom is not so lucky.)

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