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Socially Adept Technologies. Steve Marsh National Research Council Canada March 21st, 2002. Motivation. An introduction to the field Pointers to relevant work Questions about ‘suitability’ Suggestions for future projects A wake-up call

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socially adept technologies

Socially Adept Technologies

Steve Marsh

National Research Council Canada

March 21st, 2002

  • An introduction to the field
    • Pointers to relevant work
    • Questions about ‘suitability’
    • Suggestions for future projects
  • A wake-up call
  • A ‘call to arms’
  • Propaganda :-)
  • Introduction
  • What is Social Adeptness?
  • What is a Socially Adept Technology?
  • Examples of work in Social Adeptness
  • Questions
  • Problems
  • Answers?
  • Conclusions and more questions (from you? :-)

When an individual enters the presence of others, they commonly seek to acquire information about him or bring into play information about him already possessed ... Information about the individual helps to define the situation, enabling others to know in advance what he will expect of them and what they may expect of him.

GOFFMAN, E., page 13, 1959; “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”, Penguin: Middlesex.

so what does this mean
So? What does this mean?
  • Humans have a sense of self (Mead) and through this they adapt to situations and decide how to interact with others (by trying to figure out the ‘self’ of the other person)
  • Human-human interaction is social
  • It is also cultural
    • Our culture dictates what is and what is not acceptable in given situations
    • Novel situations are handled by prior similar situations if possible (cf scripts)
    • And there may be rules, implicit or explicit, we follow...
fair enough but so what we re ai agents people
Fair enough, but so what? We’re AI (agents?!) people
  • This ability to behave socially and culturally correctly towards people (or entities) with whom we are interacting is what we call ‘social adeptness’
  • What’s en entity?
    • People, animals, agents…
  • So what?
    • So, we argue that if this social adeptness works so well for humans, why shouldn’t it work just as well for machines?
    • (and we’re not the only ones, as you’ll see)
  • So, in other words, human-human and human machine and machine-machine interactions are social
social adeptness
Social Adeptness
  • One sensible definition of social adeptness is:The ability to behave correctly in any given situation according to the culture of the agents with whom one is interacting in any social setting.
  • And correctly means sensibly, carefully, and in an ‘expected’ manner (which is, granted, a slight tautology…)
what is it in a practical sense
What is it, in a practical sense?
  • Social adeptness is an understanding of, reasoning about, and behaviour according to social norms such as:
    • Ethics
    • Emotions
    • Morality
    • Trust
    • Personality
    • A sense of self
    • A sense of others
    • Cultural awareness
    • Social awareness (which is often the same thing) (Marsh, 1995)
socially adept technologies or agents
Socially Adept Technologies (or Agents)?
  • A Socially Adept Technology is capable of reasoning with these norms in order to determine correct behaviour in any given interaction
  • The word interaction is important here…
    • Correct social behaviour may or may not be necessary in private(Remember the tree falling in an empty forest?)
    • But, interactions can be asynchronous (as with email)
  • Basically, the onus is on us to behave correctly toward those we are interacting with
  • It should be clear that, in order to allow technologies (agents, interfaces, etc.) to reason with these social norms, we need to have formal, or at least computationally tractable, models of them
  • Obtaining these models is the goal of research in Social Adeptness…
    • Interdisciplinary
    • Wide ranging
    • And hard… :-)
actually it s quite easy to imagine
Actually, it’s quite easy to imagine...
  • Imagine:
    • Cellphones that don’t ring when you’re at the theatre (or at a lecture…)
    • Robotic vacuum cleaners that don’t vacuum when you’re in the middle of a dinner party
      • … or a good movie…
    • Interfaces that can adapt to your mood
    • Tools that can help you interact with people from different cultures, in various situations
    • Agents that organise meetings according to your personal requirements
  • … and all without ever having to be told what is right…
  • All of these are Socially Adept Technologies...
whilst quite hard to do
… whilst quite hard to do
  • Work in the field is inherently multidisciplinary, ranging over topics such as
    • Philosophy
    • Sociology
    • Computer science
    • AI
    • Psychology
    • etc...
work in social adeptness
Work in Social Adeptness
  • Several researchers are working in and around the topic. To name some (and discuss fewer)...
    • Socially Intelligent Agents
      • Dautenhahn (Hertfordshire, England)
    • Artificial Morality
      • Danielson (UBC)
    • Trust
      • Marsh, Dibben (St Andrews, Scotland), Davenport (Napier, Scotland), Esfandiari, Chdrasekharan (Carleton), Castelfranchi (NRC Italy)
    • Personality
      • Meech (AmikaNow!), Reeves & Nass (Stanford)
    • Interface Agents
      • Extempo (Hayes-Roth), Microsoft
socially intelligent agents
Socially Intelligent Agents
  • Prinicipally, this is Kerstin Dautenhahn’s work
  • Dautenhahn has organised several workshops in this field, and a book is forthcoming
    • See her web pages for details
  • The basic premise is similar to SATs
    • Make systems that can interact properly with humans
  • Robotics in fact play a large part in this work
  • Dautenhahn’s web pages can be found at:
artificial morality
Artificial Morality
  • Peter Danielson, UBC (see his book: Artificial Morality: Virtuous Robots for Virtual Worlds, Routledge, 1992)
  • Danielson provides simple agents with an understanding of morality and its workings
  • He has extended his work in several very interesting areas (including ecology and the business world)
  • See his web pages at:
  • (A topic dear to my heart…!)
  • Introduced for autonomous agents in 1991-2 (Marsh)
  • Trust is the basis of sociability
    • Without trust, society would cease to exist (Bok)
    • Thus, an understanding of and concrete implementations of trust are vitally important to the study of Social Adeptness, acting as the keystone of a Socially Adept (or Intelligent) Technological thrust
  • As evidence of its importance, it has received more attention than most other SA attributes, especially recently (because of E-Commerce, which we’ll come to sooner or later…)
trust contd other work
Trust contd. - Other work
  • The past 3 years have had workshops on Deception, Fraud and Trust in Agent Societies organised at the Autonomous Agents conferences
    • The proceedings from these workshops are an invaluable aid to finding out more
  • An understanding of and subsequent representation of personality is an important part of any interaction
    • This applies to human-technology interactions just as much as human-human
  • The most visible work in this area is that of Reeves and Nass from Stanford, reported in their book, The Media Equation
  • A significant result from this work was that people like to interact with systems that show the same personality as them
    • e.g., dominant with dominant, submissive with submissive, etc.
personality contd reeves and nass
Personality contd. - Reeves and Nass
  • The Media Equation presents compelling evidence for this and other findings
    • Although subsequent work may have put this in doubt…
  • Quite simply however, people anthropomorphise
    • They ascribe personalities to technology
      • (do you talk to your car?)
    • … and because of this they find it easier to interact with (and put up with) the technology
  • This is powerful stuff - understanding it gives us a key to designing more acceptable systems and interfaces
personality contd meech
Personality contd. - Meech
  • Meech, for his thesis, looks into the Media Equation’s results and takes them further into the design of human-computer interfaces
  • The conclusions drawn are similar - that people like to interact with like personalities
  • Such personalities can also be promoted, even in textual interfaces, with different wording, emphasis, etc.
  • We are using this work in a novel web site architecture, as you’ll see later
time for a look back
Time for a look back...
  • There are many more examples of work in Social Adeptness
    • Too many to cover in this talk, including:
      • Emergent behaviour (Artificial Life, studies of societies…)
      • Emotions (e.g. Roz Picard’s Affective Computing, MIT)
      • Attention-based systems (e.g. Roel Vertegaal, Queens U)
      • Narrative and communicative systems (Bickmore & Cassel, MIT; Mateas and Sengers, CMU)
      • Systems that make jokes… (Kim Binstead, Sony)
      • etc.
  • Bringing them together under a single moniker is worthwhile and informative
and forward and
…and forward, and ...
  • Given what we have seen so far in the area, it’s time to think about the ultimate goal (implicit or explicit, worked towards or not) of this combined research:The creation of (potentially physically) embodied social agents capable of existing in the ‘real’ human social world, behaving correctly according to the norms of society and culture.
  • Such agents may not be artificially intelligent, but they will undoubtedly be socially intelligent
  • But we’re a way away from that yet
… sideways
  • Given the theoretical work, what’s being done practically?(Now we come to the promotional part…)
  • My work at NRC is specifically concerned with Socially Adept Technology, its uses and how to apply it to different avenues of work
  • This will proceed in a new lab, with the code name Project Mole Rat :-)
  • I’ll discuss some of the relevant work here
a prolegomenon for all future social technologies research
A Prolegomenon for all Future Social Technologies Research…
  • (with apologies fo Immanuel Kant)
  • I believe (and you’re free to disagree…):
    • Technology should be seen as a social actor (cf. Reeves and Nass)
    • Incorporation of social norms into technology can result in increased user comfort and efficiency (no second guessing)
    • Social norms can be incorporated both in the interface between human and technology, but also
      • Within the technology itself
      • In the interface between technologies
  • Many of these beliefs stem from my focus on Multi-Agent Systems (in itself a ‘European’ concept)
trust contd marsh
Trust, contd. - Marsh
  • My own work in trust was devoted towards
    • Better understanding how cooperative trust worked
    • Developing a computationally tractable formalisation of Trust
      • Allowing for trust reasoning agents
      • Allowing for social science studies involving formal models of trust
    • Implementing and testing the model
  • For in-depth details, see the website
formalising trust
Formalising Trust?
  • Some basic terminology:
    • Trusting entities have 3 kinds of trust:
      • Basic Tx
        • The amount of trust you might have in the world
      • General Tx(y)
        • Trust you have in a specific person in general
      • Situational Tx(y,a)
        • Trust you have in a specific person in a specific situation
    • Trust values are in the range [-1,+1) (now, is that odd?)
formalising trust1
Formalising Trust?
  • Formal models can be used to model trust through interactions:

Tx(y,a) =Ux(a) * Ix(a)*Tx(y)

  • Cooperation threshold:

C_Tx(y,a) = (Rx(a) / Cx(y, a)) * Ix(a)

Marsh(1994) see: http://

  • The models aren’t perfect
    • They were never meant to be
  • But they are simple
  • And they do work (even with humans (Dibben, 1998))
  • We’re applying them to E-Commerce, as you’ll see later

Portions of this work were carried out in collaboration with researchers at University of New Brunswick’s Faculty of Computer Science…

Thanks to Profs Ali Ghorbani and Virendra Bhavsar in particular, who have taken ACORN from its humble beginnings to new heights…

Students and programmers that have worked on this project are: Youssef Masrour, Hui Yu, Leigh Wetmore, and Jonathan Carter.

acorn introduction and motivation
ACORN - Introduction and Motivation
  • ACORN is a ‘tool-based’ SAT, whose relevance becomes clearer with some thought
  • ACORN is a peer to peer multi-mobile-agent architecture based on community-oriented communication paths in human society - Stanley Milgram’s Small World Problem
    • (how many buzzwords do you need in a sentence…?)
  • ACORN was conceived as a replacement for ‘static’ information systems such as bog standard email and static web servers
    • We see information in this sense as a dynamic entity which has to work to exist in the world…
  • ACORN is ‘one of those’ acronyms: Agent-based Community Oriented Routing Network
acorn basics
ACORN - Basics
  • In ACORN, every piece of information is (potentially represented by) an autonomous mobile agent - the InfoAgent
    • sounds, images, movies, frames, documents and parts of documents, files, links, and so on…
    • Note - anything you can send via email, you can send in ACORN too
  • Every InfoAgent carries with it
    • metadada for and a link to its information (not necessarily the information itself)
    • owner information (it is given)
    • community information (it learns and can be given)
    • community ‘paths’ (it builds itself and can be given)
uses of acorn
Uses of ACORN
  • As an email replacement - ‘email with attitude…’
  • As community building and enhancing technology
  • As a people finder
  • As a novel peer review system
  • As a personalised directed information architecture
    • (directed ads, anyone...?)
  • B2B and B2C applications
current status
Current Status
  • ACORN is fully implemented in Java (uses JSP)
  • There will be a port to C this summer
  • Development is ongoing in privacy, anonymity, and ‘thin’ InfoAgents
  • Integration of summarisation and additional search technologies are also ongoing
socially adept web sites
Socially Adept Web Sites
  • An application of SAT to adaptive web site technology, this project aims to show how some simple rules can be applied to already existing technology in order to facilitate its better usage and integration in society
  • It’s also an approach to answering Etzioni’s (1997) call for adaptive webs
  • Finally, although it is applied presently to eCommerce and web interfaces, we believe some at least of what we’ve learned can be applied to other interfaces.
  • This work was carried out jointly with John Meech. Our thanks also goes to Ala’a Dabbour for a first implementation of the prototype site
static trust factors in e commerce
Seals of Approval






Studio Archetype/Sapient

Static Trust Factors in E-Commerce
web site as agent
Web Site As Agent
  • Web site acts as an intelligent, adaptive interface - can be viewed as an agent
  • Constructs a user profile from interactions, history and other data
  • Uses models of trust, personality and context to evaluate user behaviour
  • Adapts web page content/structure accordingly
  • A prototype site has been developed for this paradigm
  • SociAware is ‘Socially Aware’ technology - a simple means of thinking realistically about SATs in general.
    • It was first introduced at MICON in August 2001
  • The most basic aspect of SociAware is the extension of the trust model in simple ways to enable social trust reasoning (that is, to allow society to reason about how it trusts ‘things’ such as information.
sociaware applications infodna
SociAware Applications: infoDNA
  • A standard of Trust in information agents, implemented as an extension to the ACORN architecture
  • Problem: agents judging information in ACORN…
    • i.e., which pieces of information to forward to owner, and which to discard
  • Solution: each piece of information is socially rated
    • Then each agent can use these ratings in decision making
  • Note that this solution is not perfect
    • Societies can be fooled into believing things that are not true…
acorn and infodna
ACORN and infoDNA
  • Each piece of information carries with it additional infoDNA:
    • Originator and signature
    • Set of reader ratings and signatures
  • Ratings in our system are [-1,+1) but any suitable representation would work
  • Agents can judge information based on these societal rankings
  • Naturally, much more information is also available
    • Owner of information
    • Metadata
  • This is a simple application but worthwhile, also it gives us a set of results to work with when implementing more complex approaches
social web technology
Social Web Technology
  • Socially Adept Web Site adapts to User personality, trust
  • However, initial stages of adaptation are problematic
    • Unknown user, unknown requirements
    • Site strange to user
    • Potential privacy concerns with adaptation, user profile
  • Using SociAware technology, we will be addressing these concerns
social web technology1
Social Web Technology
  • User represented by SociAware Agent
    • This maintains user profile
  • Site represented by Site Agent
  • At first visit, negotiations between user and site agents result in pre-built user profile with no identifying capacity (except through user agent, which reveals only what is necessary)
  • In addition, because SociAware, user agent can query society (e.g. via SociAware server) for views on site policies, etc.
  • SociaAware server maintains data. Also becomes indispensable in browsing new unknown sites
  • Other value added - negotiation via SociAware server preserves even more privacy/control
table manners a physical sat
Table Manners - a ‘physical’ SAT
  • For this implementation of the SAT concept, we wanted to take some physical aspect of collaborative technology and use it as a base toolset with which to experiment on various topics
    • Group formation in distributed settings
    • The detection and facilitation of group dynamics in local and distributed settings
    • The locus of ‘command’ in a collaborative technology
    • Remote control and tele-haptic technologies
    • Computer Supported Collaborative Play
  • For this, we chose to implement two HI-Space tables over two sites in Ottawa (CRC’s Virtual Classroom and NRC’s MoleRat lab), with an option to network further tables
  • The umbrella name of this technology toolset is ‘Table Manners’ (thanks to Monica…)
  • We’re still building the tables - they will be online by June
  • Table Manners will use agents to represent individual users
  • Each user will then have a model the agent can use to predict behaviour, analyse the same, and come up with worthwhile group building/reinforcing structures amongst the other users and their agents
  • This raises interesting questions of privacy, sensing, avatar potential, etc.
table manners continued
Table Manners continued
  • We will have
    • 2 networked tables over a dedicated research fibre for high bandwidth
    • 2 large plasma displays for video conferencing
    • Palm pilot control and personalisation of table and associated information
    • Wireless Haptic capabilities (prototypes based on MindStorms stuff, with more to come)
    • Several potential projects to implement and observe
    • (and I’m very excited about the potentials!)
potential table research approaches
Potential Table Research Approaches
  • Remote control of robotics
  • Agent based user modeling - truly socially adept agents…
  • Avatars
  • Advanced video conferencing
  • Active environments
  • Collaborative gaming
  • Privacy and trust
  • Ubiquitous individual information handling
the wacky idea file
The Wacky Idea File
  • Wouldn’t it be nice if…
    • Your PDA could guide you in real time about the customs and social expectations of the new country you’ve just arrived in…
    • Your PDA could link with an active environment and show you how what you see now relates to what you saw (perhaps in another country) last week
    • Wireless was so ubiquitous you really were always wired, and your machines were always contextually and socially aware
    • Your ‘machines’ really were invisible, really were ‘personal’ and really did ‘know’ what do do at any given time
    • We really could trust our technology to do the ‘right’ thing
    • Technology simply faded away when you didn’t need it…
  • Work on Socially Adept Technologies raises its own questions
    • Ironically, of ethics and morality amongst others
  • Some of them I mention briefly here, others may be plain to you
    • Is this a good thing to do?
    • Are we hurting people by deceiving them?
    • Is anthropomorphising technology good for people?
    • Can ‘bad people’ use this in naughty ways? How?
    • What does this give us regular AI (or even dumb) technologies don’t?
    • Do we need Artificial Intelligence if we have Social Intelligence?
    • Where is all this going?
  • The main concern with all of this work is that it may indeed not be possible
    • Is it, for example, possible to provide a ‘good enough’ representation of Trust for artificial agents? What about emotion?
      • And given this, does the agent really trust or emote, for example?
        • All of which raises interesting philosophical questions, if nothing else
        • And which I leave in your capable hands… but...
some answers
Some Answers?
  • The obvious answer to the questions and problems raised is to ignore them and hope they go away
  • (This is not a particularly scientific, or moral, approach…)
  • The most powerful answer is that, by researching these topics and by asking these questions at the same time, we are doing two very powerful things:
    • Attempting to use what we find to achieve some answers
    • Asking the questions (another tautology?!)
  • As scientists, we have a responsibility for asking these questions before others do the work without asking them, and who knows, we might just find some answers...
  • ‘Socially Adept Technologies’ relates to two distinct things:
    • Technologies capable of behaving properly in the social world
    • A collection of research topics relating to the concept of social behaviour
  • There are several other parts of the puzzle out there
  • Socially Adept Technologies can provide for novel, worthwhile, and above all, satisfying models of user-machine interaction
  • In addition, understanding and modeling social behaviour may lead to a better understanding of and support systems for human societal behaviour (cf. Dibben, 1998)
  • Finally, looking at this topic raises interesting moral and ethical questions which will not go away, and which it is our responsibility to address
a final word
A final word

Without systems being able to sense that the user is there, who they are, what they’re doing or need, and lots of other physical and mental things, this stuff is doomed to ultimate failure

(consider the average traffic light)

The human in the loop is the key to Social Adeptness...