Trust me, I’m a robot: Oxford Brookes University collaborates on chatbot research

Friday, 31 May 2019

Chatbot image

Oxford Brookes University is working with researchers at UEA, the University of Kent, and Cranfield University to investigate how chatbots can be designed to appear more trustworthy – thanks to £500,000 funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

From banking and insurance to shopping and dating – these increasingly human-like computer programs are fast becoming part of society.

But the fact that users are not keen on disclosing sensitive information to them is a sticking point for tech providers.

Lead researcher Dr Oliver Buckley from UEA’s School of Computing Sciences, said: “The way that we interact with technology is evolving rapidly and users expect fast, reliable and accurate information. In order to deliver systems capable of meeting these expectations, both businesses and government departments alike are turning to chatbots.

“Chatbots are all around us, particularly in customer support roles. They’re speaking to us on the phone, emailing us, and responding to text messages – with answers to queries and even providing advice and guidance.

“They are very convincing but a big problem is that people don’t trust them with sensitive or private information - for example to do with their health, or banking.

“We want to know how chatbots can become even more personable to encourage people to disclose sensitive or confidential information.

“We will investigate how technology can be optimised to provide a more effective method of communication, and focus on the implicit trust that a user has with a chatbot.

Professor Helen Dawes from Oxford Brookes University commented:

“Technology proposes to revolutionise health care, providing access to world-class expertise, diagnostics and care for all.  This project will address one of the biggest challenges which is to gain people’s trust to engage with this technology.”

The PRoCEED (A Platform for Responsive Chatbot to Enhance Engagement and Disclosure) project will involve researchers from UEA’s School of Computing Sciences and School of Psychology. It will focus on the nature of sensitive information - and how the context of the information can play a role in its perceived sensitivity.

A range of experiments will help researchers better-understand public perceptions of personal information, and how those perceptions relate to the classification of information.

The project will focus on the use of chatbots across three key sectors - healthcare, defence and security and technology. These sectors are significant users of chatbots and all deal with potentially sensitive and personal information, as well as being areas of significant public spending.