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Alexa, Tell Me What To Do Next: CMU Project Aims To Make AI Socially Intelligent

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
A Carnegie Mellon University research team is trying to make artificial intelligence more socially aware. The hope is it can be used to facilitate collaboration between teams in high-stress situations, like search-and-rescue.

People in the military often have to work as part of a team under stressful circumstances. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University want to see if artificial intelligence can help teams communicate and function more smoothly, in a project funded by DARPA, the Department of Defense's research arm.

Neuroscience research has shown that people under stress are more likely to make risky, and poor, decisions. CMU robotics professor Katia Sycara, the lead on the DARPA project, said this is especially true in a crisis situation.

"They may not be exactly the cool people that are working with each other in an office environment," Sycara said. "It is very important to have possibly artificial help to help coordinate."

Sycara and her team are using the video game Minecraft to teach AI how to be an effective and level-headed team member in stressful situations. Using the building game's open world environment, the team will create search-and-rescue situations to train the AI.

The project is funded through a DARPA program called Artificial Social Intelligence for Successful Teams. Program manager Joshua Elliott said Sycara's team is one of six working to build social awareness in AI.

"The things that make a great human teammate [are] the ability to actually anticipate their teammate's needs, anticipate what their teammate is going to do next, and actually do things that are complementary in parallel with that teammate," Elliott said. "And we believe that's how ultimately machines are going to be able to do it, to work effectively side by side."

CMU's research is funded for the next four years. The hope is that at the end, there's a viable product for civilian first responders and military crisis response teams.

WESA receives funding from Carnegie Mellon University.