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How robots can help students with disabilities

By Alina Tugend, The New York Times Company

Imagine: robots that help teach social skills to children with autism. Translation software that provides deaf students with a smoother and more interactive experience. Data analysis to determine effective methods for identifying people with dyslexia.

These tools, which all incorporate artificial intelligence, aim to find better ways to detect, teach and help people with learning disabilities. Some are already in classrooms; others are still in the research phase.

Social robots, which are designed to interact with humans, can help teach social and educational skills to students of all abilities, including those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, hearing impairments, of Down and autism.

Meeting the needs of children with autism is particularly urgent because of their numbers; 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And those students tend to react to robots “in a way that they don’t react to puppets or pet therapies or many other kinds of things that we’ve tried,” said Brian Scassellati, professor of science. computing, cognitive science. and mechanical engineering at Yale University.

It may be because robots look like humans but are non-judgmental, he said. The robots come in a variety of designs, including a little boy, a classic sci-fi machine, and a furry snowman, and they go by energetic names like Kaspar, Nao, and Zeno.

In a recent study by Scassellati and colleagues, an early prototype of a robot named Jibo – which looks like a small table lamp with a round head that swivels in all directions and a glowing white circle on a touch screen as its face – worked every day for 30 days with 12 children and their caregivers. Jibo modeled social gazing behavior, such as making eye contact and sharing attention, and provided feedback and guidance during six interactive games played on screens.

“The robot’s job was to adjust the difficulty of the game based on the child’s performance,” Scassellati said. But the idea is not for the robot to replace a teacher or caregiver. “We never want to encourage kids to just react to technology; it does them no good,” he said. “We want to allow them to interact with people in a more substantial way.”

Research has shown that robots help improve educational and social skills, but much more study is needed to find out how to make these changes stick and translate to the real world.

How does the AI ​​play into this? Technology has advanced, as has research into the formation of perceptions, how people can infer the feelings and thoughts of others, and what constitutes emotional intelligence. This information can be translated into algorithms that allow robots to interpret speech, gestures, and complex verbal and non-verbal signals, as well as learn from feedback.

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