OK Google, bring me a Coke: AI giant demos soda-bringing robots

OK Google, bring me a Coke: AI giant demos soda-bringing robots
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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Aug 16 (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL.O) Google is combining the eyes and arms of physical robots with the knowledge and conversational skills of virtual chatbots to help employees conveniently fetch soda and chips from break rooms.

The mechanical waiters shown to reporters last week represent advances in artificial intelligence that make multi-purpose robots as easy to control as those performing single structured tasks, such as vacuuming or standing guard.

Google bots are not ready for sale. They perform only a few dozen simple actions, and the company has not yet integrated them with the familiar “OK, Google” calling function.

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While Google says it’s taking a responsible approach to development, adoption may rest on concerns that robots will become surveillance machines or be equipped with chat technology that could prompt offensive responses, such as Meta Platforms Inc. (META.O) and others have lived in recent years.

Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Inc (AMZN.O) are doing comparable research on robots.

“It will take some time before we can really understand the direct commercial impact,” said Vincent Vanhoucke, Google’s senior director of robotics research.

When asked for help cleaning up a spill, the Google bot realizes that grabbing a sponge is a possible and smarter response than apologizing for making a mess.

Robots interpret natural-sounding commands, compare possible actions with their capabilities, and plan smaller steps to fulfill the request.

This chain was made possible by infusing the robots with language technology that pulls in understanding of the world from Wikipedia, social media and other web pages. Similar artificial intelligence underpins chatbots, or virtual assistants, but hasn’t been applied to robots as widely before, Google said.

It announced these efforts in a research paper in April. Since then, adding more sophisticated language to artificial intelligence has boosted the bots’ command success rate from 61% to 74%, according to a company blog post on Tuesday.

Fellow Alphabet subsidiary Everyday Robots makes the robots, which for now will be limited to serving snacks for employees.

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Reporting by Paresh Dave; Edited by Kenneth Li and Richard Chang

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Paresh Dave

Thomson Reuters

A tech reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area covering Google and the rest of Alphabet Inc. He joined Reuters in 2017 after four years at the Los Angeles Times, focusing on the local technology industry.

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