Humans prefer taking orders from computers not the other way around, a new study from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology concludes.

Humans Computer Control

Humans like being ordered by computers

When given a choice between a human giving work orders to a computer, or a mix of computers and humans equally in control, or computers giving work orders to humans, the majority of production line employees in the survey said they prefer the computer telling them what to do.

Not only did the study reveal that humans like to be told what to do by computers, but they think computers are better listeners.

A majority of the workers surveyed said the robots “better understood them” and “improved the efficiency of the team.”

Let me repeat that. The humans thought the robots “better understood them.”

“In our research we were seeking to find that sweet spot for ensuring that the human workforce is both satisfied and productive,” says 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.”

Computer control offers more productivity

The study noted the most productive situation at accomplishing tasks at hand was one in which the robots told the humans what to do.

Gombolay claims providing robots control doesn’t mean they run the show. Rather, its all about a human-generated computer algorithim that determines how production tasks are delegated, scheduled, and coordinated.  “Instead of coming up with a plan by hand, it’s about developing tools to help create plans automatically,” he said.

Like an overburdened production manager running a plant, the robot and its driving algorithm can also conduct on-the-fly replanning, instantly developing an alternate “schedule” for a task if, say, a new part arrives or a machine malfunctions — a clear advantage over its human counterparts, who generally require time to call an audible, the report noted.

The research, which was developed by Gombolay, MIT undergraduates Reymundo Gutierrez and Giancarlo Sturla, and assistant professor Julie Shah in the Interactive Robotics Group at CSAIL, and it could be the start of a larger initiative.  Gombolay projects forward and predicts that in the future similar algorithms could be used in previously to human-human collaboration, such as scheduling hospital resources, search-and-rescue drones, and even one-on-one, human-robot collaboration in which the robot could help someone with discrete building and construction tasks.

In other news, ValueWalk has previously reported on computers that can organize themselves without a specific algorithm telling them how to coordinate their actions.