Luis Paulo Reis, PhD | Photo: Luis Paulo Reis, PhD

Luis Paulo Reis, PhD | Photo: Luis Paulo Reis, PhD

PORTUGAL. The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly advancing. While obscure, AI is used to accomplish a wide variety of tasks in our daily lives. Conducting a basic Internet search or speaking to an automated call system are simple examples of AI we use everyday. Furthermore, robots are harnessing this power, which has great implications for economics, science, math–basically all fields of study.

Here, Luis Paulo Reis, PhD, Associate Professor at the University of Minho in Portugal, discusses the basics of artificial intelligence, the future roles of robots, and the ethics of creating such machines.

How would you define artificial intelligence? Are humans considered the gold standard of intelligence (what scientists aspire to recreate)?  

Luis Paulo Reis, PhD: I would define Intelligence as the ability to solve new problems through the use of knowledge. And so Artificial Intelligence may be defined as the science concerned with building intelligent machines, that is, machines that perform tasks that when performed by humans require intelligence. I believe we do not aspire to create machines similar to humans that reason and act as humans. We (at least I) aspire to create rational machines that solve problems correctly, execute tasks and help humans to have a better life.

The basic unit of human cognition and our nervous system is the neuron. Is there an equivalent in robots?

No! Intelligent robots will not be based on artificial neural networks. As in the previous answer they will be rational machines with reasoning processes very different from those of humans.

How embedded is artificial intelligence in our daily lives? Do we even realize when we’re using it?

Artificial Intelligence is everywhere. From our cars (with autopilot and voice recognition systems) to our video game consoles (with voice and gesture recognition, intelligent opponent characters).

Are robots limited in that they can only solve and analyze problems that they are programmed to solve?

No! Robots may have machine learning abilities that enable them to use their past experience in order to improve their future performance and be able to solve new problems in the future.

Will humans ever be able to have sustainable relationships with robots?

Yes! I believe that visions from science fiction and motion pictures such as Blade Runner (from Ridley Scott) or Artificial Intelligence (from Steven Spielberg) will be a reality in a near future (50 to 100 years).

What are some of the greatest challenges to enabling artificial robots to feel and sense emotions?

What is an emotion? Probably when we may be able to understand it our robots will be able to feel and sense emotions!

There have been discussions about creating robots for autism therapy. What do you think about this treatment?

I strongly believe that robots will be very useful for autism therapy and other tasks helping people, who suffer from severe disabilities (such as tetraplegia or cerebral palsy patients). In this area, we recently developed the Intellwheels project (Intelligent Wheelchair with flexible multimodal interface and automatic adaptation to the user capabilities (based on machine learning methodologies).

How extensive is a robot’s ability to learn?

Research on machine learning is quickly evolving with amazing new results on the last few years. The ability of a software agent or physical agent (such as a robot) to learn is not limited by our current science.

Are there any ethical challenges to building such machines?

Lots of ethical issues! If we develop a race of robots stronger and more intelligent than the human race, what will happen after that? Will it be fair to have that race of robots as our servants/slaves? Will it be fair to terminate (kill) such a robot? What will happen to the human race?

You’re a RoboCup champion. Could you tell us a little bit more about this exciting competition?

RoboCup is a very interesting competition and domain. It is a Joint International Project on the areas of (Distributed) Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Robotics. Soccer was chosen as the Central Research Topic because it is a very complex collective game and a huge amount of technologies is involved to build intelligent soccer teams, such as: Autonomous Agents, Multi-Agent/Multi-Robot Systems, Cooperation, Communication, Strategic Reasoning, Robotics, Sensor Fusion, Real-Time Reasoning, Machine Learning. The main goal of the RoboCup initiatives ”By 2050, develop a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots that may win against the human world champion team in soccer!”. The competition is structures around more than 10 different leagues that pose distinct but interconnected problems and use different robots (from simulated, to small, middle size to humanoid robots of several types). Results achieved on robotic soccer are also applied to other RoboCup leagues (with more direct usefulness to the society) such as RoboCup RescueRoboCup@Home and RoboCup@Work. In summary, a very large international community is working together to build more intelligent and safe robotic teams!


Luis Paulo Reis is an Associate Professor at the University of Minho and member of the Directive Board of LIACC – Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science Laboratory in Portugal. He received his Electrical Engineering and MSc degrees from the University of Porto in 1993 and 1995, and a PhD in Artificial Intelligence/Robotics at the same University in 2003. During the last 20 years he has lectured courses on Artificial Intelligence, Intelligent Robotics, Simulation and Modeling, Planning and Scheduling and Logic Programming. He was principal investigator of more than 10 research projects in the areas of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Simulation, Assistive Technology and Sports Analysis including FC Portugal, three times World Champion and eight times European Champion of Robotic Soccer at RoboCup. He also won more than 40 other scientific awards. He supervised 14 PhD theses and 83 MSc theses to completion and is currently supervising 10 PhD theses. He is the author of more than 250 publications in international conferences and journals. He is the president of SPR – the Portuguese Robotics Society.