Secret Agents: The Real and Imagined Inner Lives of Interactive Robots

Associate Professor Tom Williams

Picture of Liang Zheng

Written by: Liang Zheng
25 Jul 2023


Tom Williams
Tom Williams

Time: 10:00am-11:00pm, Tuesday 25 July 2023

Location: Innovation Space, Level 2, Birch Building 35


Robots are Secret Agents. By this I mean that while computer scientists and roboticists may not view their robots as being fully autonomous, interactive, and adaptive, everyday users perceive them as such nonetheless. This creates a whole host of user expectations that may be hard to live up to – and that may cause problems when violated. In this talk, I’ll begin by explaining how robot design choices impact how people perceive robots and expect them to behave. I’ll then explain why robots are not simply agents, but are also moral and social agents, and explain the work the MIRRORLab has been doing to understand and address the unique perceptions and expectations that come along with these more nuanced types of agency. Finally, I’ll discuss how these two types of agency interact, and the unique challenges that this imposes.


Tom Williams is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the Colorado School of Mines, where he directs the Mines Interactive Robotics Research Lab. Prior to joining Mines, Tom earned a joint PhD in Computer Science and Cognitive Science from Tufts University in 2017. Tom’s research focuses on enabling and understanding natural language based human-robot interaction that is sensitive to environmental, cognitive, social, and moral context. His work is funded by grants from the United States’ National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, and Army Research Lab,  as well as Early Career awards from NSF, NASA, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

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