People share spaces and objects with each other every day. When conflicts regarding access to these shared resources occur, people communicate with each other to negotiate a solution. But what should a robot do when such conflicts occur between a human and a robotic assistant? Answers to this question depend on the context of the situation. In order for robots to be successfully deployed in homes and workplaces, it is important for robots to be equipped with the ability to make socially and morally acceptable decisions about the conflict at hand. However, robots today are not very good at making such decisions. The objective of my research is to investigate an interactive paradigm of human-robot conflict resolution that does not involve complicated, artificial moral decision making. I am currently working on a robotic system that can communicatively negotiate about resource conflicts with its human partner using nonverbal gestures.
What do you hope to accomplish with your research?
I hope to contribute to the field of human-robot interaction and roboethics (study of ethical, legal, and societal issues pertaining to robotics) by introducing a new paradigm of interaction that allows flexible, shared decision making. This will provide a critical path to advancing interactive robotics by helping to address the question of what a robot should do in human-robot conflict situations.
What has winning a major award meant to you?
My decision to pursue a career in very young fields of research - human-robot interaction and roboethics - means that I carry a lot of risks of failure with me. Winning the award has been a strong reassurance that my work is valuable and that the risks are worth taking.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
I was surprised to find that I've become much more athletic and outgoing after having moved to Vancouver, although my life as a graduate student is a very busy one. I used to dislike exercise, and prefer indoors to outdoors. With the UBC campus as well as the province of British Columbia offering easy access to hiking trails, mountains, ski slopes and much more, it is easier to establish a healthy lifestyle.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
While I was pursuing my master's degree at UBC, I started an international organization called the Open Roboethics initiative (ORi) that aims to raise public awareness of roboethics issues (i.e., ethical, societal, and legal issues pertaining to robotics technology) and to better incorporate stakeholder discussions into design. I've decided to stay at UBC for my PhD in order to continue to work with the world class roboethics experts and roboticists who helped start the organization.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Make friends, inside and outside the lab. I quickly found that the pursuit of new knowledge can feel like a very stressful and lonely journey. Whenever I get stressed about something, it really helps to know that I have friends here who are my support network, even if they can't help solve any of my problems. Getting to know people outside of my immediate research community helped establish valuable opportunities to learn and collaborate as well.