Robots learning facial expressions

einstein (Custom)
Researchers at UC San Diego have been working on a robot that learns facial expressions. Starting with a bunch of random movements of the face “muscles”, the robot is rewarded each time it generates something that is close to an existing expression. It has slowly developed several recognizeable expressions itteratively. We have a few questions. First, are we the only ones who see a crazy woman with a mustache in the picture above? Why is that? What makes [Einstein] look so effiminate in that picture? Secondly, what reward do you give a robot? You can actually see this guy in action in a video after the break.


  1. Taylor says:

    Maybe its the orange cutoff on the side and the exposed chest area that many feminine clothing styles sport. If you put your hand over his chest, It looks like a masculine einstein lol.

    As for the project itself, this is very, interesting.

  2. Taylor says:

    Wait! Just saw the video- yeah, Idk why but the video looks very feminine.

    (Bonus points for orgasm face at 0:07)

  3. moore850 says:

    1. neckline is too slender for a man.
    2. hairstyle, hair density, and hairline are feminine.
    3. eyes are way too youthful and shiny for an older male.
    4. the outfit as noted by taylor.
    5. the jawline and eyebrows look like cosmetic surgery or other modifications associated with female appearance upkeep (tweezed brows?)

  4. Anthony says:

    Could it be the curly hair and the fact that he (it) is wearing a famine wig and a something that resembles a dress.

  5. sunjester says:

    i think everyone is missing the point here, it never learned anything, or at least i was not convinced it had learned anything new at all.

    walt disney has been doing this “trick” for many years with their innovative robotics teams. some way or another information was ALREADY provided about facial expressions, mean the machine was just doing what it was told.

    like always.

  6. bort says:

    simple application of a neural network

  7. cptfalcon says:

    @sunjester, how is this different than traditional learning? I was “told” how to tie my shoes in a similar manner.

  8. DanDawson says:

    It looks like it’s is wearing a Paula Dean wig.
    This is pretty interesting but I feel like there should be a more exact way of doing this.
    Has anything else been done with this?
    I can see a pretty neat application using a webcam to see a user’s face and einstein would copy it.

    Also, at 0:23, sad or high?

  9. pRtkL xLr8r says:

    “it’s a me, mario! i’m a 60 years old!”

  10. therian says:

    facial expressions is a waste of processing power , why dont they use their time on something useful

  11. therian says:

    why someone would care that future vacuum cleaner will be able to make faces instead of doing it primary work better & faster

  12. Ricki says:

    Uhmm canny valley comming closer… yeah Im definitely freaked!

  13. Taylor says:

    I would have to agree with some that this is not actually learning anything. This reminds me of the whole “put monkeys in a room for so many hundred years or so and the will write shakespear” (To inaccurately paraphrase).
    This just proves how far we truly are to mimicking complex biological phenomena with an over-simplistic code counterpart. The year 2009!

  14. _matt says:

    I think there’s an assumption that being taught and learning are different.

    Learning would involve guessing until there’s a reward.

  15. zenny says:

    Idk, learning in itself is a very complex process:

    The program seems to work only by iterations, that at any random interval could be accepted as a plausible facial expression, resulting in a reward, and thus that face is saved.

    In real life, organisms ( the more intelligent ones, anyway ) don’t just learn by trial and error, and it is not all just guesswork; there are calculations and things like boolean / fuzzy logic are applied to the situation, and it is mostly done by the process, “a relatively minimal action- observation- calculation- repeat”.

    What I am saying is, you and I both know we did not learn how to smile by brute-forcing facial expressions. We observed with audio, visual, and other sources of input.

  16. doug says:

    I’m guessing it looks effeminate because of the slender neck and no perceptible adam’s apple.

  17. MattieShoes says:

    It’s the painfully obvious wig with a feminine hairline.

  18. Haku says:

    I would hope that the people involved with identifying the different facial expressions don’t have Aspergers or anything on the Autistic spectrum. As someone with Aspergers I find reading body language & subtle facial expressions difficult.

  19. RobotGuy says:

    who rewarded the robot for making the “stoned” look on the left of the picture montage at the top of the page?

    “what reward do you give a robot?”

    chips, obviously.

  20. Bill ate a Cat says:

    i’d hit it..

  21. MJ says:

    And this is relevant as a hack exactly how? This has been blogged by a half dozen sites already – hackaday doesn’t need this.

  22. headbonk says:

    Too deep in the uncanny valley.

  23. spacecoyote says:

    it is technically an ai hack. by combining random actions with “rewards” (positive feedback, basically binary response…either this combination of actions is good or not) learning can be faked.

  24. Chris says:

    OMG! It’s Helen Hunt!

  25. F7 says:

    “Hello, I am uncomfortably androgynous Mark Twain. Sometimes a feel more like a man, and sometimes more like a woman. Will you help me explore my sexuality?”, the robot said with a provocative expression.

  26. Thomascpp says:

    time to call in derek smart. JK

  27. mark question says:

    Man, I’m glad you mentioned that. The first thing I thought was, “Why does that robot look like a woman dressed as Einstein?”

  28. Josiah says:

    It’s not a hack/fake really. It is actually a fair approximation of how we work (just badly described)…

    Reinforcement learning usually approximates what goes on inside our brains to learn – this is learning in exactly the same way as us, but many orders of magnitude simpler. As said above, it’s probably a fairly straightforward application of a neural network. Neural nets can implement fuzzy logic, reasoning, decisions, etc, so it’s fair to say it’s using fairly complex AI technology. It’s just a bit unimaginative.

    A more imaginative application of the tech has already been covered here:

  29. damntech says:

    I thought that was Joan Rivers.

  30. snide says:

    While I certainly can’t disagree this is pretty typical for an AI project, the problem is that we learn to make facial expressions as a result of communicating emotions. There does not seem to be any correlation here between the facial and internal state, only learning expressions independent of anything. While that may or may not save some programming time, it still would require some human to come in and correlate the particular expressions with some symbolic representation for communication; hardly psychologically plausible.

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