Creepy Baby-Bot Used To Study Why Babies Smile — The Verdict: Kids Are Crafty

Babies are similar to comedians, apparently. They time a smile like a comedian would a joke, trying to get the best response.

A new study at UC San Diego, which looked at why babies smirk at their mommies, was conducted in a very unique way, combining computer science, robotics, and developmental psychology, Science Daily reported. And they learned that the little ones are quite manipulative.

“I used to wonder if my daughter was trying to communicate with me when she was an infant and smiled,” psychologist Javier Movellan told the San Diego Tribune. “It might not have just been wishful thinking on my part. (They) are very goal-oriented.”

Using an extremely unnerving bot called Diego-San, they simulated a baby’s behavior in order to find the “why” behind the grin. They used something called optimal control theory, which allowed the robotics team to design and program the robot to behave in a specific way based on certain goals. They developed a program that mimicked the babies’ actions and imprinted those actions to the bot.

Enter 32 undergraduate students. As part of the study, they hung out with the droid, who was programmed to smile back — with a face containing 27 moving parts, CBC News added — whenever the students did. They liked this so much that they soon behaved like a mom, smiling a lot even when the robot didn’t need to.

This study builds on a previous study, which examined 13 moms and their kids; in 11 of these pairs, the child smiled before her mom.

“If you’ve ever interacted with babies, you suspect that they’re up to something… They’re not just smiling randomly,” Movellan said.

So the verdict as to why babies smile? It’s not quite clear yet, but it seems that the only goal baby has is to make mom beam back. Such games are part of the mother and infant bond, but scientists haven’t understood why they do this. And while moms may want to smile with their children, babies don’t participate for no reason at all — and no more than they need to.

“The results of our analysis show that (when) infants reach four months of age both mothers and infants (sync) their smiles in a purposeful, goal-oriented manner,” the study says. “Mothers consistently attempted to maximize the time spent in mutual smiling, while infants tried to maximize mother-only smile time.”

So the next time you’re grinning at your infant, remember this — he has an agenda. At least you don’t have to deal with Diego. The bot is truly a creepy creation, which Motherboard’s Jordan Pearson likened to a horror movie monster.

“It’s bad enough that this thing moves like a stop-motion robot monster from an old horror flick, but its face is all busted, like a baby everyone thought was real until it started peeling off its fake skin, revealing its mechanical chassis, and killing everyone.”

[Photo Courtesy Max Bukovski/ Shutterstock]