Blame it on HAL 9000, Clippy’s constant cheerful interruptions, or any navigational system leading delivery drivers to dead-end destinations. In the workspace, people and robots don’t always get along.

But as more artificial intelligence systems and robots aid human workers, building trust between them is key to getting the job done. One University of Georgia professor is seeking to bridge that gap with assistance from the U.S. military.

Aaron Schecter, an assistant professor in the Terry College’s department of management information systems, received two grants – worth nearly $2 million – from the U.S. Army to study the interplay between human and robot teams. While AI in the home can help order groceries, AI on the battlefield offers a much riskier set of circumstances — team cohesion and trust can be a matter of life and death.

“My research is less concerned with the design and the elements of how the robot works; it’s more the psychological side of it. When are we likely to trust something? What are the mechanisms that induce trust? How do we make them cooperate? If the robot screws up, can you forgive it?” — Aaron Schecter

“In the field for the Army, they want to have a robot or AI not controlled by a human that is performing a function that will offload some burden from humans,” Schecter said. “There’s obviously a desire to have people not react poorly to that.”

https://youtube.com/watch?v=GIu6wvvQ65c%3Ffeature%3Doembed

While visions of military robots can dive into “Terminator” territory, Schecter explained most bots and systems in development are meant to transfer heavy loads or provide advanced scouting — a walking platform carrying ammunition and water, so soldiers aren’t burdened with 80 pounds of gear.

“Or imagine a drone that isn’t remote-controlled,” he said. “It’s flying above you like a pet bird, surveilling in front of you and providing voice feedback like, ‘I recommend taking this route.’”

But those bots are only trustworthy if they are not getting soldiers shot or leading them into danger.

“We don’t want people to hate the robot, resent it, or ignore it,” Schecter said. “You have to be willing to trust it in life and death situations for them to be effective. So, how do we make people trust robots? How do we get people to trust AI?”

Rick Watson, Regents Professor and J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair for Internet Strategy, is Schecter’s co-author on some AI teams research. He thinks studying how machines and humans work together will be more important as AI develops more fully.

Understanding limitations

“I think we’re going to see a lot of new applications for AI, and we’re going to need to know when it works well,” Watson said. “We can avoid the situations where it poses a danger to humans or where it gets difficult to justify a decision because we don’t know how an AI system suggested it where it’s a black box. We have to understand its limitations.”

Understanding when AI systems and robots work well has driven Schecter to take what he knows about human teams and apply it to human-robot team dynamics.

“My research is less concerned with the design and the elements of how the robot works; it’s more the psychological side of it,” Schecter said. “When are we likely to trust something? What are the mechanisms that induce trust? How do we make them cooperate? If the robot screws up, can you forgive it?”

Schecter first gathered information about when people are more likely to take a robot’s advice. Then, in a set of projects funded by the Army Research Office, he analyzed how humans took advice from machines, and compared it to advice from other people.

Relying on algorithms

In one project, Schecter’s team presented test subjects with a planning task, like drawing the shortest route between two points on a map. He found people were more likely to trust advice from an algorithm than from another human. In another, his team found evidence that humans might rely on algorithms for other tasks, like word association or brainstorming.

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