Enabling Human Control of Autonomous Partners: DARPA program to help humans maintain situational awareness when AI behaves in unexpected ways

A major benefit of increasingly advanced automation and artificial intelligence technology is decreased workload and greater safety for humans – whether it’s driving a vehicle, piloting an airplane, or patrolling a dangerous street in a deployed location with the aid of autonomous ground and airborne squad mates. But when there’s a technology glitch and machines don’t function as designed, human partners in human-machine teams may quickly become overwhelmed trying to understand their environment at a critical moment – especially when they’ve become accustomed to and reliant on the machine’s capabilities. Without situational awareness of the system and environment, the human team member may be unable to adapt, reducing safety and threatening mission success. This reality played out in crashes of modern jetliners in recent years killing hundreds, because advanced automated systems failed in flight and pilots weren’t able to assess the situation and respond appropriately in time. Such examples underscore the need to design human-machine interfaces (HMIs) that allow humans to maintain situational awareness of highly automated and autonomous systems so that they can adapt in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

DARPA today announced its Enhancing Design for Graceful Extensibility (EDGE) program, which aims to create a suite of HMI design tools to be integrated into systems design processes. By prioritizing and orienting these tools towards quantifying, supporting, and testing situational awareness – rather than on cognitive load at the expense of situational awareness – EDGE will help create HMI systems that allow operators to not just monitor autonomous systems but also adapt their use to meet the needs of unanticipated situations.

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