Robots Will Be More Useful If They are Made to Lack Confidence

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Matt Reynolds in the News & Technology section of the 10 June 2017 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins “CONFIDENCE in your abilities is usually a good thing—as long as you know when it’s time to ask for help. Reynolds notes that as we build ever smarter software, we may want to apply the same mindset to machines.

Dylan Hadfield-Menell says that overconfident AIs can cause all kinds of problems. So he and his colleagues designed a mathematical model of an interaction between humans and computers called the “off-switch-game.” In the theoretical set-up robots are given a task to do and humans are free to switch them off whenever they like. The robot can also choose to disable its switch so the person cannot turn it off.

Robots given a high level of “confidence” that they were doing something useful would never let the human turn them off, because they tried to maximize the time spent doing their task. Not surprisingly, a robot with low confidence would always let a human switch it off, even if it was doing a good job.

Obviously, calibrating the level of confidence is important. It is unlikely that humans would ever provide a level of confidence that would not allow them to shut down the computer. A problem here is that we humans tend to be overconfident and to be unaware of how much we do not know. This human shortcoming is well documented in a book by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach titled “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone.” Remember that transactive memory is information that is found in our fellow human beings and in technology that ranges from paper to the internet. Usually we eventually learn the best sources of information in our fellow humans and human organizations, and we need to learn where to find and how much confidence to have in information stored in technology, which includes AI robots. Just as we can have the wrong friends and sources of information, we have the same problem with robots and external intelligence.

So the title is wrong. Robots may not be more useful if they are made to lack confidence. They should have a calibrated level of confidence just as we humans should have calibrated levels of confidence depending upon the task and how skilled we are. Achieving the appropriate levels of confidence between humans and machines is a good example of the Man-Machine Symbiosis J.C.R. Licklider expounded upon in his Classic paper “Man-Computer Symbiosis.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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