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If you ask anyone what they think of when they hear the word “robots,” many will probably say “a frightening future.” However, according to social scientists like Tibor Bosse, it's much more interesting to think about the many opportunities robots offer instead. "You need to see artificial intelligence as adding to human intelligence, rather than threatening it," Tibor says.
Tibor is a professor of artificial intelligence (AI) and communication science at Radboud University and chair of the Communication and Media Group. At Radboud, researchers do not study whether robots should be a part of society, but instead where robots can best be used in society. What problems can we solve using artificial intelligence? A lot of social science research will be needed in the coming years to improve the skewed image the public has of artificial intelligence. "People don't really have to be afraid that we will lose our uniqueness if there are suddenly robots with similar intelligence walking around,” says Tibor.
At Radboud, Tibor holds a unique position that bridges social science and computer science. This position between humans and technology (as he puts it) is what drew Tibor to the university. He works closely with Radboud’s Behavioural Science Institute (BSI), which conducts top-level research on human behaviour. “At the BSI there is a lot of expertise about theories, scientific methods, and best practices related to behavioural research. I benefit a lot from this in my mission to build bridges between humans and technology,” he adds.
One area in which AI has a lot of potential to bring humans and technology together is knowledge distribution. Robots can be used to teach people new skills. For example, robots could allow training to be given in places where individual lessons would otherwise be too expensive and suitable human teachers and experts are not readily available. Using AI, their knowledge could be shared across the world.
In the Netherlands, where Radboud is located, Tibor has helped develop a virtual reality simulation that teaches tram personnel how to deal with aggressive passengers. He and his team also built an app to teach senior citizens to recognise and avoid the scamming techniques used by door-to-door sales people. In this training, a module measured how assertive the senior citizen's voice was to check whether the training was having an effect.
"Up until now, there were never enough people available to provide this kind of training on a large scale,” explains Tibor. “With AI, however, it will be easier to offer this training anywhere and everywhere. That’s what I call a smart, concrete solution for a social problem.”
There are countless situations in which AI could help ease the workloads of human workers. At Radboud University Medical Center, researchers are looking at using AI to support physicians in image analysis. Using AI will allow CT scans to be analysed faster, significantly reducing the workloads of the physicians.
Research is also ongoing into functional illiteracy, sustainability, and other social issues where AI and robots can play an important role. Tibor believes that big issues such as staff shortages in the care and education sectors as well as environmental problems could be tackled much more smartly if we continue to apply AI the right way. This means not replacing people with robots, but rather having them work alongside robots. Robots should play a supporting role and take over tedious or time-consuming duties.
To achieve this, Tibor emphasizes that we need both technicians and social scientists. "Technical researchers and students can improve and tighten the algorithms, but social scientists are essential if AI is to be given the correct place in society. If this happens, as far as I'm concerned, people can have pretty much completely natural cooperation with robots."
Tibor is a professor (hoogleraar) of artificial intelligence and communication science at Radboud University and chair of the Communication and Media Group. His research addresses the design, implementation and evaluation of intelligent media technologies that influence human behaviour.