“How Acting Through Autonomous Machines Changes People’s Decision Making” by Celso de Melo

Seminar | Room 1.38 - IST Taguspark | 14:00

Celso Melo,

US Army Research Lab


Recent times have seen an emergence of a new breed of intelligent machines that act autonomously on our behalf, such as autonomous vehicles. Despite promises of increased efficiency, it is not clear whether this paradigm shift will change how we decide when our self-interest (e.g., comfort) is pitted against the collective interest (e.g., environment). In this talk, I show that acting through machines changes the way people solve these social dilemmas and I’ll present experimental evidence showing that participants program their autonomous vehicles to act more cooperatively than if they were driving themselves. We further show this happens because programming vehicles to act autonomously causes short-term rewards to become less salient and this leads participants to consider broader societal interests and behave more cooperatively. Our findings also indicate this effect generalizes beyond the domain of autonomous vehicles. We discuss implications for designing autonomous machines that contribute to a more cooperative society.


Celso M. de Melo is currently a computer scientist at the US Army Research Lab with an interest in artificial intelligence, human-machine interaction, and social psychology. He completed a post-doc at the USC Marshall School of Business and earned a Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. His research focuses on understanding human decision making with or through autonomous machines, and developing intelligent human-computer interaction systems. This research is part of a broader agenda that, on the one hand, studies how psychological theories inform the design of socially intelligent machines and, on the other hand, relies on these machines as critical tools to get insight on the psychological mechanisms underlying human behavior. His cross-disciplinary research has been published in computer science (e.g., AAAI, AAMAS, Transactions of Computer-Human Interaction) and psychology (e.g., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, CogSci) venues.

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