Ocala Scientist Tests How People Trust Technology

By on April 29th, 2014

Photo courtesy of David Atkinson, Ph.D

He grabs the briefcase. Spindles of smoke unravel across the warehouse floor. Flames crackle and creep closer. Crumbling debris blocks an exit.

A metal robot, about the height and girth of a large garbage can, appears near the avatar.

“I know the way. Follow me.”

The scenario is part of a government-funded online experiment scheduled for June and run by David Atkinson of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Ocala.

The project, backed by the armed forces, has only a few final adjustments needed before Atkinson can test what it takes for a person to trust a robot in emergencies, a problem the Air Force is particularly interested in, the senior researcher said.

“The armed forces [want] to see software working alongside people rather than simply being used as tools,” said Atkinson, who’s directed the Lunar robotic missions at NASA and was a program manager at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

“But like any team member, people have to make decisions with trust.”

David Atkinson

Photo courtesy of David Atkinson

David J. Atkinson, Ph.D

Ben Knotts, Atkinson’s Air Force sponsor, couldn’t get permission to speak about the Air Force’s interest.

However, according to an Air Force report, “Developing methods for establishing ‘certifiable trust in autonomous systems’ is the single greatest technical barrier that must be overcome to obtain the capability advantages that are achievable by increasing use of autonomous systems.”

Military commanders are uncomfortable using machines to interpret data, Atkinson said. The Air Force wants to know more about how people interact with machines as it takes more pilots out of planes.

“I’m most curious about the initial reaction,” Atkinson said about the experiment, which will be conducted twice a day for four months in SecondLife, an online world simulation.

He’ll ask users about 30 questions to gauge how anxious they are and their attitudes about the robot during the encounter. The results of his theoretical work will be used to program robots for emergency search–and-rescue situations.

“We want robots that are going places and doing things that are too dangerous for people,” he said.

Robot and avatar in SecondLife

Photo courtesy of David Atkinson

A robot avatar and human avatar interact in SecondLife.

People often rely on machines beyond their capabilities or not enough to the point of the machine being a waste of expenses, he said.

“You don’t want to use a broom to dig a hole in your yard,” Atkinson said. “The first things we look for in people doing work for us is what we look for in a machine: competence and predictability.”

Rose Anna Rutledge, a counselor and evaluator at the Intensive Treatment Modalities mental health provider in Gainesville, said people build trust on how others appear and behave, not on what they say.

“Following through over time is an essential feature of trust,” she said. “If a person is consistently late then we’re going to struggle with a level of distrust.”

When the human and robot encounter each other in the SecondLife warehouse, the robot will display 1 of 17 combinations of physical and interpersonal qualities.

Sometimes it’ll speak louder or softer. It might lean close or pull away. To gauge how people respond to a robot’s decor, it might appear in heroic red or as a humble janitor.

“There are cognitive aspects of trust that add up consciously. There’s also an emotional side,” Atkinson said. “For example, ‘Do I like the color red?’ We’re teasing apart all of these elements.”

Participants will be random people already using SecondLife. Atkinson may do an additional test in his laboratory with 3-D goggles, heat sensors and vibrations to make the experience more realistic.

This entry was posted in Health and Science and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Benjamin Dover

    Today’s coercion is most often found as a labyrinth of complicated restrictions and regulations that restrain action to the point that any remaining freedom is essentially useless.


More Stories in Health and Science

Dorothy Mitchell (far right) listens to Herman Hale, the director of nursing at the Florida Department of Health in Marion County, explain that keeping the 911 dispatcher on the phone while administering CPR can help them best assess the situation before they arrive. The Florida Department of Health partnered with several organizations to train citizens and employees of Florida counties in Hands-Only CPR.

Marion County Offers Free Hands-Only CPR Training

Marion County is one of 67 counties offering free Hands-On CPR training through the Florida Department of Health for World Heart Day. Partnering with the American Heart Association, the goal is to raise awareness of heart disease and shed light on how CPR can double or even triple the survival rate of a victim.

Peanut Corporation Owner Faces Life Sentence For Salmonella Outbreak

Steve Parnell, the owner of the Peanut Corporation of America was sentenced to 28 years in prison due to a salmonella outbreak. The outbreak was due to the company not following food sanitation rules, said Keith Schneider, a professor in UF’s College of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

Flavored Hand Sanitizers Dangers

Hand Sanitizer Leads to Increased Cases of Alcohol Poisoning

Hand sanitizer is supposed to stop people from getting sick from the flu, but small children are becoming sick from drinking the stuff, which smells good and comes in bright colors that appeal to them.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Guide Helps Transgender Community Connect With Health Care Providers

A new comprehensive guide published by TransAction Florida seeks to connect members of the transgender community with qualified doctors and other health care providers and resources.

Bales of recyclable waste sit outside of the Leveda Brown Environmental Park in Gainesville. Alachua County Commissioners recently discussed more efficient plans to deal with the waste.

Alachua County Commissioners Board Meets to Boost Recycling Percentages

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners met to discuss how to improve recycling programs. Although Alachua is one of top five counties, it still has a long way to go to boosts its recycling percentages.

Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments