Socially Adept Technologies


Nov 5, 2013 (3 years and 5 months ago)


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 :



What is Social Adeptness?

What is a Socially Adept Technology?

Examples of work in Social Adeptness




Conclusions and more questions (from you? :

Here’s a thought...


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?

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

human interaction is social

It is also cultural

Our culture dictates what is and what is not acceptable in


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

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 machine

machine interactions are social

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.


means sensibly, carefully, and in an
‘expected’ manner (which is, granted, a slight

What is it, in a practical sense?

Social adeptness is an understanding of, reasoning
about, and behaviour according to social norms such






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)?

A Socially Adept Technology is capable of reasoning
with these norms in order to determine correct
behaviour in any given interaction

The word

is important here…

Correct social behaviour may or may not be necessary in

(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…


Wide ranging

And hard… :

Actually, it’s quite easy to imagine...


Cellphones that don’t ring when you’re at the theatre (or at a

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

… and all without ever having to be

what is right…

All of these are Socially Adept Technologies...

… whilst quite hard to do

Work in the field is inherently multidisciplinary, ranging
over topics such as



Computer science




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)


Marsh, Dibben (St Andrews, Scotland), Davenport (Napier,
Scotland), Esfandiari, Chdrasekharan (Carleton),
Castelfranchi (NRC Italy)


Meech (AmikaNow!), Reeves & Nass (Stanford)

Interface Agents

Extempo (Hayes
Roth), Microsoft

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

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

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

The most visible work in this area is that of Reeves
and Nass from Stanford, reported in their book,
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

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, for his thesis, looks into the Media Equation’s
results and takes them further into the design of
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,

We are using this work in a novel web site
architecture, as you’ll see later

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)

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)


Bringing them together under a single moniker is worthwhile 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

(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…

(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.


My own work in trust was devoted towards

Better understanding how

trust worked

Developing a
computationally tractable

formalisation of

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?

Some basic terminology:

Trusting entities have 3 kinds of trust:



The amount of trust you might have in the world



Trust you have in a specific person in general



Trust you have in a specific person in a specific

Trust values are in the range [
1,+1) (now, is that odd?)

Formalising Trust?

Formal models can be used to model trust through

) =

* I



Cooperation threshold:

) = (R
) / C
)) * I

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


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.


Introduction and Motivation

ACORN is a ‘tool
based’ SAT, whose relevance becomes clearer
with some thought

ACORN is a peer to peer multi
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



piece of information is (potentially
represented by) an autonomous mobile agent


sounds, images, movies, frames, documents and parts of
documents, files, links, and so on…


anything you can send via email, you can send in

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

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

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

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

Seals of Approval






Studio Archetype/Sapient

Web Site As Agent

Web site acts as an intelligent, adaptive interface

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

Web Site Architecture


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

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

Note that this solution is not perfect

Societies can be fooled into believing things that are not

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


This is a simple application but worthwhile, also it gives us a set
of results to work with when implementing more complex

Social Web Technology

Socially Adept Web Site adapts to User personality,

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 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
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.

Socia?Aware 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

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

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

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

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

Remote control of robotics

Agent based user modeling

truly socially adept


Advanced video conferencing

Active environments

Collaborative gaming

Privacy and trust

Ubiquitous individual information handling

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

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

Do we need Artificial Intelligence if we have Social

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

And given this, does the agent
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?

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

Without systems being able to

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...

Thanks for listening…

Any questions?