University of Southampton researchers are at the forefront of a new science that is finding ways in which computers can work intelligently in partnership with people. This could support the management of some of today's most challenging situations, such as the aftermath of major disasters and smart energy systems.
The five-year ORCHID project has looked at how we work with computers: instead of issuing instructions to passive machines, we will increasingly work in partnership with agents, highly interconnected computational components that are able to act autonomously and intelligently, forming human-agent collectives.
Agents can be in sensors collecting and analysing information to give the ‘bigger picture’ of an emergency situation as it develops or in a smart meter monitoring the energy consumption of your home, recommending how you might adapt your usual routine to reduce both the cost of the energy that you consume and its carbon content.
The £10m funded project has brought together around 60 researchers from the universities of Southampton, Oxford and Nottingham, together with industrial partners at BAE Systems, Secure Meters UK, Rescue Global and the Australian Centre of Field Robotics. It is led by Professor Nick Jennings, who leads the University of Southampton’s Agents Research Group, the largest research group of its kind in the world.
Professor Jennings says: “This vision of people and computational agents operating at a global scale offers tremendous potential and, if realised correctly, will help us meet the key societal challenges of sustainability, inclusion, and safety that are core to our future.
“This shift is needed to cope with the volume, variety and pace of the information and services that are available. It is simply unfeasible to expect individuals to be aware of the full range of potentially relevant possibilities and to be able to pull them together manually. Computers need to step up to the plate and proactively guide users’ interactions based on their preferences and constraints. In so doing, greater attention needs to be given to the balance of control between people and machines.”