The Value of Allowing AI to ‘Ask for Help’


An AI robot using a laptop. / Photo by: Kittipong Jirasukhanont via 123RF


Artificial intelligence is powering robots, smartphones, and even managing finances of people. But AI systems or robots remain uncommon in daily settings like in homes and supermarkets. Manuela Veloso, incoming head of AI Research Division at JP Morgan, wants to see AI pull its own weight.

At EmTech Next 2018, Veloso discussed that she envisions a future where everything with wheels can follow users with a single command. These objects equipped with wheels include shopping carts and suitcases.

“Every time I enter a supermarket and I push this cart, I say, ‘Why can’t this cart follow me?’ These carts should all be automated,” she stated.

AI-powered shopping carts can make grocery shopping a lot easier, particularly for the elderly, pregnant women, and people with disability. The AI support for these carts does not need to be fully advanced to help the public. Simple technology such as voice command recognition and autonomous driving can enable the carts to assist customers.

The robots also do not need to automatically know everything in order to assist people. A machine can simply be trained to notify people of something they do not know and to ask for help.

For example, a robot without arms has been tasked to get a cup of coffee and deliver it to a specific room. The AI will automatically search online or its own dataset where it can get the beverage. Once it has figured it out, it will proceed to the location of the source which is likely the kitchen area. Unfortunately, the lack of robotic arms causes the AI to fail in its task and it likely stop there. But if the AI programming involved asks for help like what people do, the robot could look for a person and ask them to put a cup of coffee in its storage part to accomplish its task.

“AI might not be able to do the whole task, but if you enable the ability to ask for help or plug in other things, then it is able to do the whole [task],” she added.