Sharework is a research project about technology, and specifically about cobots in the industry. But more than that, Sharework provides a rich field of exploration for fundamental questions of human and social sciences. This post outlines four examples of research topics to which Sharework contributes or will contribute in different ways in the fields of ethics, anthropology, psychology and cognitive science.
The ethics of cobots
Sharework is dealing with cobots, not only robots. And this has important consequences in terms of the kind of ethical issues it involves: responsibility (if a task is collaborative, then to what extent shall the operator be held responsible for a mistake that might occur?); data monitoring (since collaboration implies the detection of communicative inputs from the human operator, specific challenges emerge in terms of data collection and privacy) and safety (because of the close physical interactions involved), all of which need to be addressed through appropriate methodologies.
Sharework identifies the ethic issues on the use of robots in industrial contexts, involving responsability, data monitoring and safety
In this regard, by addressing these issues in the Human Factors part of its work plan, Sharework contributes to identify the normative dilemmas and challenges to the use of cobots in industrial contexts, with the objective of facilitating the safe and responsible use of the technology, together with potential solutions and remedial interventions.
Cultural transmission of manufacturing techniques
Manufacturing techniques are complex actions, the function of which is to transform a set of pieces into a final product. Their transmission across generations of operators, forms traditions that persist with a high degree of stability. Yet they are flexible by nature, and offer some degrees of freedom to the operator, either by adapting them to solve novel problems (for instance when a new product is introduced in the production line), or to improve existing ones (more rarely to express some personal idiosyncrasies).
Even if there is a unique prescribed way of doing something (for instance respecting a certain order to screw bolts, or security rules), flexibility remains a necessary feature of technical “traditions” if only to allow the successful implementation of the technique in different contexts of production. As a project with no less than four use cases with their own industrial culture, Sharework is a most interesting field to examine what factors (cognitive and environmental) are involved in the learning and transmission of manufacturing techniques.
The psychology of trust
What makes people trust in innovation? Trusting a specific innovation has essential affective and social components, as opposed to epistemic reasons alone. The complexity of most innovations and the fact that their practical consequences are by definition unknown, make them indeed cognitively opaque by nature (that is, the reasons that would speak in favour or against a given innovation are not readily available).
An exploration of the cognitive mechanisms generating trust and acceptance towards an innovation will be performed during the project
Because of this cognitive opacity, trust is necessary to accept an innovation as good or bad: it is easy to find evidence in favour of a certain opinion, and conversely, to divert your attention away from evidence that would support the opposite opinion. By tackling the crucial question of how to foster acceptance from the end-users, Sharework contributes to the exploration of the cognitive mechanisms guiding these processes.
The cognitive study of joint action
In conceiving collaborative robots, Sharework addresses questions relative to the cognitive mechanisms involved in joint action. Human coordination is closely linked to the ability to recognize joint intention and reliable communication, two characteristic features of the social mind.
How does that apply to human-cobot interactions? By studying the conditions necessary to optimal coordination in an industrial context, Sharework tackles the question of what needs to be shared between the cobot and the operator for the collaboration to work efficiently. Does the attribution of a joint intention by the human predicts effective collaboration when learning how to work with a cobot? The training phase of the project will offer an original context to look closely into this most fundamental research question.
Each of these topics can in turn contribute to practical questions: What processes should be put in place to answer ethical challenges? How to best foster optimal flexibility so that practices evolve across time and generations of operators? How to foster trust in innovations and management? How to best conceive cobots so that they are best adapted to the human mind?
Of course there are plenty of other challenges associated to the use cobots in industrial context. No doubt that the list of Sharework concrete inputs for research in social sciences will grow over the course of the project.
That will be a source of further comments – for the discussion, hopefully!
Tiffany Morisseau is Research Manager at Strane Innovation. She has a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Lyon, with an expertise in pragmatics and social cognition. Since January 2019, Tiffany leads Strane’s research projects in Human Sciences, with a specific focus on the question of epistemic trust and acceptance.