A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has found that teams led by robotic managers perform the best and have the happiest workers.
The study, carried out by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), explored three scenarios of human-robot cooperation. Groups composed of two humans and one robot worked together during the experiment. While in the first scenario all tasks were allocated by a human, in the second the robot was in the leading position and in the third one human was managing himself or herself while the robot was allocating tasks to the second human.
Surprisingly, the teams managed by the robot where not only the most efficient but their human members reported the highest levels of satisfaction.
“In our research we were seeking to find that sweet spot for ensuring that the human workforce is both satisfied and productive,” said project lead Matthew Gombolay, a PhD student at CSAIL.
“We discovered that the answer is to actually give machines more autonomy, if it helps people to work together more fluently with robot teammates.”
According to the researchers, the workers said they felt the robots “better understood them” and “improved the efficiency of the team.”
Gombolay emphasizes that giving robots control doesn’t mean a team of cyborgs will be running the show. It means the tasks are delegated, scheduled, and coordinated via a human-generated algorithm.
“Instead of coming up with a plan by hand, it’s about developing tools to help create plans automatically,” he said.
The algorithm can also conduct on-the-fly replanning, instantly developing an alternating schedule for a task if the need arises, for example when a machine breaks down or a new part arrives.
The research — developed by Gombolay, MIT undergraduates Reymundo Gutierrez and Giancarlo Sturla, and assistant professor Julie Shah in the Interactive Robotics Group at CSAIL— is part of a long line of recent advances that allow robots to interact in less predictable environments, and to therefore collaborate directly with human workers in factory settings.
Gombolay says that, in the future, similar algorithms could be applied to human-human collaboration (like scheduling hospital resources), search-and-rescue drones, and even one-on-one human-robot collaboration in which the robot could help someone with building and construction tasks.
The following video explains the experiment's setting: