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Changing the future of artificial intelligence

Eduardo Perez Valle and Miguel Vargas Martin of Ontario Tech University are currently working to make artificial intelligence more empathetic by developing the companion robot, ASUS Zenbo. (photo by Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Ontario Tech University is looking to change the face of artificial intelligence.
As the world learns to understand AI, there are some who believe privacy shouldn’t be sacrificed.
Professor Miguel Vargas Martin and 22-year-old undergraduate Eduardo Perez Valle are two supporters of this view.
Valle is an industrial engineering researcher from Mexico, who is spending three months in Oshawa to contribute his expertise in artificial intelligence to develop companion robots.
“A companion robot ideally would be a friend. Someone you trust, someone you can share things, with somebody who you can do things with, you can have fun with, somebody who can help you do things. In other words, a humanoid,” says Martin.
Valle came to Oshawa after applying to Mitacs Globalink, a program which currently has more than 1,200 international students working on innovation challenges at 55 Canadian universities.
Valle says he learned about Mitacs from a friend who applied to the program last year.
“She told me that she had a very good experience here,” he says. “She also applied at Ontario Tech, and she told me it was a very good experience.”
In his search for a companion robot which doesn’t use a cloud system and maintains the user’s privacy, Martin began looking to create ASUS Zenbo.
The robot, which stands 50 cm tall, isn’t near completion according to Martin.
While at Ontario Tech, Valle will be working on developing a natural language-processing interface so Zenbo is capable of detecting a person’s mood through voice and facial cues.
The ultimate goal is for Zenbo to develop empathy over time.
The robot has a round body, neck and touch screen face. It is intended to provide company for seniors and people living alone.
Valle demonstrates the robot can crack jokes, dance and will blush when complimented.
So far, Canada has been good to Valle, as he notes the weather at this time of year is different from Mexico.
“The city is beautiful. There’s a lot of people. More people than I’ve ever seen in my country,” he says.
Martin says working with Valle has been great.
“I like his approach… it turned out pretty well, and I’m happy with the work he has done.”
Despite having taken significant steps towards completion, Martin explains the project is still far from being complete as they still don’t know how people will respond to ASUS Zenbo.
“I would say a major milestone is being able to have a conversation with the robot… but then after that, we would need to test it,” says Martin. “Even though it’s private, people may not like it. Maybe they don’t like the faces of the robot, or maybe it’s too small. We don’t know.”
He explains that even after they have surpassed all of the technological barriers, there is still the human element they need to address.