We want to build animated characters and robots capable of rich social interactions with humans and each other, and who are able to learn by observing those around them. An increasing amount of evidence suggests that, in human infants, the ability to learn by watching others, and in particular, the ability to imitate, could be crucial precursors to the development of appropriate social behavior, and ultimately the
ability to reason about the thoughts, intents, beliefs, and desires of others. We have created a number of imitative characters and robots, the latest of which is Max T. Mouse, an anthropomorphic animated mouse character who is able to observe the actions he sees his friend Morris Mouse performing, and compare them to the actions he knows how to perform himself. This matching process allows Max to
accurately imitate Morriss gestures and actions, even when provided with limited synthetic visual input. Furthermore, by using his own perception, motor, and action systems as models for the behavioral and perceptual capabilities of others (a process known as Simulation Theory in the cognitive literature), Max can begin to identify simple goals and motivations for Morriss behavior, an important step towards developing characters with a full theory of mind. Finally, Max can learn about unfamiliar objects in his environment, such as food and toys, by observing and correctly interpreting Morriss interactions with these objects, demonstrating his ability to take advantage of socially acquired information.