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This Horrifying Robot Baby Was Built to Make You Smile

Why would anyone do this?

I consider myself a realist when it comes to robots. Even the most imposing of bipedal military machines is just an especially deadly arrangement of steel and circuitry to me. The Terminator? SkyNet? None of that phases me.

But this robot baby.

This robot baby makes me want to shudder with fear.

Why would anyone do this? To me? To you? 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.

Credit: David Hanson/Machine Perception Laboratory

Hello, mother.

But this robot isn't meant to scare us. Actually, it's designed to make you smile. The robot was developed by researchers at UC San Diego, who were investigating the question of why babies and mothers smile. The team applied a concept in robotics known as control theory (in other words, the feedback loop) to weekly observations of mothers and their babies interacting.

According to a paper describing the work, published today to PLOS One, babies and their mothers engage in a kind of "game" wherein they time their smiles to produce optimal good vibes. While mothers try to maximize the time both parties are smiling, babies try to maximize the time their mother smiles, while minimizing their own effort in smiling, the researchers concluded.

To validate their findings, the researchers then built the aforementioned terrifying-as-hell baby bot and programmed it to make humans smile. They pitted it against a few dozen students, and found that the results were similar to what they had observed in human baby-mother interactions: the robot maximized the humans' smiling time, and the humans were happier when both parties were grinning.

So, no, this robot won't kill you—unless you count killing with kindness.