MARVIN THE ROBOT, a supporting player in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” speaks in the dull monotone of the chronically depressed. In the “Star Wars” films, C-3PO is a bundle of anxiety and neuroses. And in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the HAL 9000 is creepily homicidal. These are all fictional machines, far removed from real robots of the present or even those that scientists envision for the future. Yet they raise questions: If robots can act in lots of ways, how do people want them to act? We certainly don’t want our robots to kill us, but do we like them happy or sad, bubbly or cranky? “The short answer is no one really know what kind of emotions people want in robots, ” said Maja Mataric, a computer science professor at the University of Southern California. But scientists are trying to figure it out: Dr. Mataric was speaking last week from a conference on human-robot interaction in Salt Lake City.
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