Robot Reflections – Whose Pixel Is This?

Robot reflections – are they going to be recognized? So far the answer is no, they lack the self-awareness. Just like one-year-old humans, the image that they see in a mirror is apparently somebody else.

To most of us this may not seem to be a matter of great urgency, but the BBC reports that to Mr. Hart at Yale this is not a state of affairs that he is prepared to ignore and is actively programming his wide-eyed robot friend Nico to look in the mirror and be just as horrified as the rest of us as he sees what a less than ideal state he’s in (1).

Robots have already been able to recognize that the actions that it sees in a mirror are of an entity that it can copy, but so far no robot can wave at a mirror and record that whatever is waving back is a itself. This self-recognition is not a trivial problem that could be meaningful solved by having a name-tag which the robot could read (in mirror writing of course). It is one of recognizing that a movement is not another robot copying but a reflection of its own motion.

The concept of recognizing a reflection of oneself is a sophisticated one and requires a whole series of visual cues, both static and dynamic at the same time understanding that the right hand is really the left hand.

Not all animals can pass this “mirror test” of self-awareness. Some primates can and apparently elephants and dolphins can, although none of these have regular access to mirrors as part of their daily ablutions.

Once Nico has learned to be sufficiently self-aware to recognize himself in a mirror, I wonder how long it will take him to learn to recognize himself in a photograph where now the right hand is the right hand and there are no motion cues? Perhaps an acting job in the movies will be a halfway house in his education.


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