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French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe shaking hands with a robot. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty

As intelligent machines begin muscling into daily life, a big issue remaining is how deeply people will trust them to take over critical tasks like driving, elder or child care, and even military operations.

Why it matters: Calibrating a human's trust to a machine's capability is crucial, as we've reported: Things go wrong if a person places too much or too little trust in a machine. Now, researchers are searching for ways of monitoring trust in real time so they can immediately alter a robot's behavior to match it.

The trouble is that trust is inexact. You can't measure it like a heart rate. Instead, most researchers examine people's behaviors for evidence of confidence.

  • But an ongoing project at Purdue University found more accurate indicators by peeking under the hood at people's brain activity and skin response.
  • In an experiment whose results were published in November, the Purdue team used sensors to measure how participants' bodies changed when they were confronted with a virtual self-driving car with faulty sensors.

Understanding a person's attitude toward a bot — a car, factory robot or virtual assistant — is key to improving cooperation between human and machine. It allows a machine to "self-correct" if it's out of sync with the person using it, Neera Jain, a Purdue engineering professor involved with the research, tells Axios.

Some examples of course-correcting robots:

  • An autonomous vehicle that would give a particularly skeptical driver more time to take control before reaching an obstacle that it can't navigate on its own.
  • An industrial robot that reveals its reasoning to boost confidence in a worker who might otherwise engage a manual override and potentially act less safely.
  • A military reconnaissance robot that gives a trusting soldier extra information about the uncertainty in a report to prevent harm.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.