Skip to Content

Why OpenAI Wants to Teach Robots to Do Your Chores

The ability to learn how to perform physical tasks will make robots much more useful—it will also be a key component of general intelligence.
June 22, 2016

OpenAI, a nonprofit created by Elon Musk and other tech entrepreneurs to make fundamental breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, has said that one of its big goals will be teaching robots to do the laundry and other household chores. OpenAI doesn’t want to make robot hardware itself but, rather, to supply the brains for off-the-shelf bots.

You might think that learning to fold underpants is a modest goal, but such dexterity and adaptability is one of the grand challenges of robotics. It also fits with the organization’s stated objective to “advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole.” Applying the sort of machine-learning techniques OpenAI is working on to robotics should, in fact, have huge practical benefits, and it will be a necessary component of any more general form of artificial intelligence.

OpenAI’s announcement is unsurprising given that it recently hired Pieter Abbeel, an academic who has pioneered the application of machine learning to robots. Abbeel and his students at the University of California, Berkeley, have been doing impressive work enabling robots to learn to perform complex tasks through trial and error, either in simulation or through real-world actions.

Rewarding certain behavior—an approach known as reinforcement learning—will probably become very common for industrial robots in the next few years. What’s cool is that you can accelerate this learning process simply by having many robots working on a task in parallel, sharing information as they go. And while OpenAI has committed to releasing its research, the various companies owned by Musk and other backers of OpenAI could certainly benefit from advances in these areas.

(Read more: OpenAI, “This Factory Robot Learns a New Job Overnight,” “Good Robot: Elon Musk’s Nonprofit Shows Where AI Is Going,” “Robot Toddler Learns to Stand by 'Imagining' It,” “Robots That Teach Each Other”)

Keep Reading

Most Popular

mouse engineered to grow human hair
mouse engineered to grow human hair

Going bald? Lab-grown hair cells could be on the way

These biotech companies are reprogramming cells to treat baldness, but it’s still early days.

ai learning to multitask concept
ai learning to multitask concept

Meta’s new learning algorithm can teach AI to multi-task

The single technique for teaching neural networks multiple skills is a step towards general-purpose AI.

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.