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See Inside March / April 2011

Where Are the Talking Robots?

Teaching a machine to speak has been a dream for decades. First, we have to figure out how we know what we know about language

Sulla, the world’s first talking robot, was so adept at conversation—in four languages, no less—that a human visitor to the laboratory in which she was created refused to believe she was not a real person.

Alas, Sulla was not a real robot, either, but a character in Karel Capek’s 1921 play R.U.R., which introduced the word “robot” to the lexicon. Ever since that debut, talking robots have seemed to be peeking around every corner, and not just in science fiction.

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