MIT Wants to Teach Robots to Do Your Chores

iStock
iStock

Teaching a robot basic human tasks is more of a challenge than it seems. To teach a robot to pour you a glass of orange juice, for instance, the 'bot has to not just recognize the command to take the juice out of the fridge and pour it into a glass, but it has to understand the many tiny aspects of the task that the human brain infers—like, say, the steps where you have to walk into the kitchen, open the cupboard, and grab an empty glass.

VirtualHome, a 3D virtual environment created by MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory with researchers at the University of Toronto, is designed to teach robots exactly how to accomplish household tasks like pouring juice. The simulator acts as a training ground for artificial intelligence, turning a large set of household tasks into robot-friendly, sequence-by-sequence programs.

First, researchers created a knowledge base that the AI would use to perform tasks [PDF]. The researchers asked participants on Amazon's Mechanical Turk to come up with descriptions of household activities, like making coffee or turning on the television, and describe the steps. Their descriptions naturally didn't include some of the steps that a robot would need, since they were composed as if speaking to another human—the "watch TV" command didn't include some obvious steps a robot might need, like "walk over to the TV" or "sit on the sofa and watch." They then had the same participants generate programs for these tasks using a simple system designed to teach young kids how to code. All told, they created more than 2800 programs for household tasks.

An avatar sets the table in a simulated dining room.
MIT CSAIL

Then, the researchers tested these programs in a Sims-inspired virtual home to see if the crowd-sourced instructions could work to train robots. They turned the programs into videos in which a virtual agent would execute the household task based on the code.

The researchers were focused on creating a virtual environment that could serve as a dataset for future AI training, rather than training any actual robots right now. But their model is designed so that one day, artificial intelligence could be trained by someone who isn't a robotics expert, converting natural language commands into robot-friendly code.

In the future, they hope to be able to turn videos from real life into similar programs, so that a robot could learn to do simple tasks by watching a YouTube video. An artificial intelligence system like Amazon's Alexa wouldn't need to be programmed by its manufacturer to do every single task—it could learn on the fly, without waiting for a developer to create a new skill.

Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Is Officially the Most Streamed Song of the 20th Century

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a massive hit when it was released in 1975. After spending nine weeks at the top of the UK charts (it only broke the top 10 on the U.S. charts), it went on to become the third bestselling UK single of all time. Even as the way people listen to music has changed, the mock opera's popularity hasn't wavered. Now, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is officially the most streamed song recorded in the 20th century, Entertainment Weekly reports.

Queen's song has been streamed by listeners a staggering 1.5 billion times, putting it ahead of classic rock tracks like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana and "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses. But when looking at overall streaming numbers, contemporary tracks still dominate. Combined, the original version of "Despacito" and the remix garnered 4.6 billion plays in just six months last year.

This latest milestone for "Bohemian Rhapsody" is even more satisfying when you know the song's backstory. The long play time and unconventional, operatic style made some music industry insiders—including the band's manager and Elton John—skeptical of its marketability. When the song debuted on the radio, listeners calling in to demand more quickly proved them wrong.

The track likely got a boost in popularity recently with help from the Freddie Mercury biopic that shares its name. Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek, hit theaters in early November and is now officially the second-highest grossing musical biopic of all time, just behind 2015's Straight Outta Compton. But it's not the first time a hit movie has led to renewed interest in the song: the tune saw a similar spike in sales—and it reentered the charts and hit No. 2—when it played an integral part in the hit 1992 comedy Wayne's World.

[h/t Entertainment Weekly]

The Pigzbe Wallet Teaches Kids How to Budget and Save Money

Pigzbe
Pigzbe

Fiscal responsibility isn’t the most exciting topic in the world, especially when you’re in elementary school. But, as Fast Company reports, Primo Toys is hoping to make the concept more child-friendly. The company’s new Pigzbe wallet works like a digital piggy bank to teach kids age 6 and older how to earn, budget, and save money by managing the cryptocurrency they receive from their parents.

Pigzbe connects to a smartphone app, which parents can use to set chores and tasks for their kids to complete, such as making their bed or washing the dishes. They can set a schedule for these chores (every Tuesday, for example) as well as monetary rewards in the form of Wollo, a “family-friendly” cryptocurrency developed by Primo Toys.

Tasks will be sent directly to the Pigzbe device, and once they have been completed, kids will receive their hard-earned Wollo tokens. The Pigzbe app helps kids visualize their earnings and how much they’ll need to save to get the items they want. "It’s a design that feels childlike, sure, but in a fun, self-aware way, almost like a Tamagotchi," Fast Company notes.

Although Wollo isn’t technically “real money,” the tokens can be used to purchase toys and other items from Pigzbe’s app. Parents can also order a specialized Visa card that will let them buy items using Wollo. Other family members can also send gifts and allowances to any Pigzbe user, no matter their geographic location.

The goal is to teach kids about financial responsibility at an early age, when they’re just beginning to form habits that will stick with them well into adulthood. “We believe that financially curious children become financially literate adults, and we designed Pigzbe to achieve just that,” Primo Toys, the maker of the Pigzbe wallet, writes in its Kickstarter campaign. The product has already exceeded its $50,000 fundraising goal, with more than 550 backers on board.

Backers who pledge $79 or more before the campaign ends on January 25, 2019 will receive the Pigzbe wallet at a 40 percent discount.

[h/t Fast Company]

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