Reimagining trustworthy autonomous systems

News | Posted on Thursday 26 January 2023

Dr Colin Paterson tells us how the experiences and aspirations of young people with complex needs are being used in research into trustworthy autonomous systems

Young people, researchers, and a humanoid robot

Trustworthy autonomous systems are part of our everyday lives. Young people with severe and complex needs are key end-users and potential co-designers of these future systems, although their experiences and aspirations are rarely acknowledged.

In December 2022, as part of the Reimagining TAS project, the Institute for Safe Autonomy hosted our young co-researchers from Greenacre School for a day in which we learnt how autonomous systems are being deployed in contexts as diverse as healthcare and space exploration. Our research team at York were on hand to not only demonstrate these cutting edge solutions but also to answer the young people's often difficult questions about the motivation for, and application of, such systems in practice.

Through a series of workshop activities we learnt that whilst such autonomous systems are often promoted as transformative the reality is that numerous foundational issues exist even with highly engineered solutions. Indeed we found that many systems required us as users to adapt to solutions rather than the systems adapting to our needs. I’m sure we’ve all modified our speaking patterns to get voice recognition systems to behave properly.

In the afternoon the young people were challenged to design a control system for a Lego robot using visual controls and then voice commands. We experienced common issues such as bias and out of distribution problems and worked to find solutions.

We learnt from each other and were led by our young people who found creative and effective solutions to the problems encountered. We hope our guests learned a little of what it’s like to design these systems. I know we learnt a lot about what it means to be truly collaborative in our design practices.

Dr Colin Paterson
Lecturer in Computer Science

Find out more about the project