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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

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The new Washington

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.

Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19

Lou Correa. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) announced on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Correa is the latest Democratic lawmaker to share his positive test results after last week's deadly Capitol riot. Correa did not shelter in the designated safe zone with his congressional colleagues during the siege, per a spokesperson, instead staying outside to help Capitol Police.