Scientists at Aberdeen University hope man and machine can talk shop

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A NEW generation of software that will allow computers and robots to “converse” with humans for the first time is being developed by scientists at a Scottish university.

The computing scientists ­behind the development at ­Aberdeen University say they hope the new systems will build trust between machines and humans and increase efficiency – operationally and financially – across a range of industries.

The research is being funded by a £1.1 million grant from the Engineering and Physical ­Sciences Research Council.

It is hoped the new technology could be useful in aerospace, aviation, defence and energy industries for a wide range of tasks, from unmanned space missions, and sea research to the decommissioning of nuclear plants.

Dr Wamberto Vasconcelos, from the university’s School of Natural and Computing ­Sciences, said: “Autonomous systems – such as robots – are an integral part of modern industry, used to carry out tasks without continuous human guidance.

“Employed across a variety of sectors, these systems can quickly process huge amounts of information when deciding how to act. However, in doing so, they make mistakes which are not obvious to them or to a human.

“Evidence shows there may be mistrust when there are no provisions to help a human to understand why an autonomous system has decided to perform a specific task, at a particular time, and in a certain way.”

He added: “What we are ­creating is a new generation of autonomous systems, which are able to carry out a two-way ­communication with humans.

“The ability to converse with such systems will provide us with a novel tool to quickly understand, and if necessary correct, the actions of an ­automated system, increasing our ­confidence in, and the ­usefulness of, such systems.”