MITRE’s Charlene Stokes Talks About Her Human-Machine Research, Defense Robotics, RoboBusiness

Featured Session
September 05, 2017

Charlene Stokes is the Director of the Human-Machine Social Systems Lab at the MITRE Corporation, where she researches the social dynamics of human-machine interaction, as well as trust in autonomy.

RoboBusiness, now in its 13th year, will include informative sessions, an expo hall of top vendors, and networking events for robotics suppliers and end users. At the conference, which is on Sept. 27 and 28, 2017, in Santa Clara, CA, Dr. Stokes will be taking part in the session “Refining Human-Machine Interfaces.”

What got you interested in robotics and artificial intelligence, and how is it connected to your work regarding Human-Machine Interaction?

My mentor at the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), Dr. Jim Overholt, and the Director of the Yale Social Robotics Lab, Professor Brian Scassellati. I’ve been doing trust in autonomy research for AFRL since 2005, with a focus on the social dynamics of humans interacting with technology.

I transitioned my AFRL research program to Yale University under an appointment as a visiting scholar in 2011, which is around the time Jim joined AFRL as our Senior Scientist for Autonomous Systems.

Many wonderful conversations with Jim led to the realization that the social cues inherent in an embodied robot or humanized virtual agent was the next logical step in my research program. My team’s Director of Partnerships, Marissa McCoy, then came across Prof. Scassellati’s Yale Social Robotics lab, which was just down the street from us. We hit it off with Scaz, added two amazing post-docs (Dr. Monika Lohani & Dr. Iolanda Leite) to our collaborative team, and we were off to the HRI races from there.

Which emerging technology or application excites you the most?

Machine learning applied to biosensing technologies. As my work is focused on creating human-machine teams, I’m greatly concerned with the bidirectional flow of both explicit and implicit information for improved communication, cohesion, trust, and a multitude of other team effectiveness, or social factors. Intelligent biosensing technologies provide the nearest approximation of a machine’s perceptual system for learning and adapting to its teammates.

What are the biggest barriers to continued growth of the autonomous systems market?

Legal and infrastructure challenges are obvious huge, but unmet user expectations pose an often overlooked barrier. The latter is based on my experience investigating the social cognitive psychology of humans. Intentionally, or more often unintentionally, cueing false agency or capability of a system can lead to a great degree of frustration or even devastating consequences when a system is trusted or relied on that should not have been.

These expectations need to be carefully managed when releasing a product to market or integrating it for military operational use, for example.

Where do you expect robotics and AI use to grow the most in the next five years, and why?

The defense department, but of course I’m a little biased in my perspective. That said, with the announcement of the DoD’s Third Offset Strategy centered on human-machine collaboration/teaming and machine learning with a budget request in the $12-$14 billion dollar range to “verify” the hypothesis, we can certainly expect growth in this area.

And as we saw with DARPA’s Grand Challenge for autonomous vehicles and now DARPA’s Robotic Challenge, not to mention the multitude of defense research programs funding academia and industry alike, there is mutual benefit to our nation’s security and economy.

What do you think your session offers to the robotics developer and end-user community?

Insight regarding the power of social cues inherent in all human interaction, be it with another human or an artificial entity.

What are you most looking forward to about being at RoboBusiness?

Exposure to the commercial/industry side of robotics. I started my research program inside the defense department in 2005, and then decided to take my program “outside of the fence” to become fully embedded at Yale from 2011-2016. That experience taught me the tremendous value of...

Contunue Reading

See Charlene Stokes-Schwartz Live at RoboBusiness:


Charlene Stokes-Schwartz

Director, Human-Machine Social Systems Lab
The MITRE Corporation

Refining Human-Machine Interfaces

The interaction between humans and robots is changing rapidly, as the requirement for programming expertise gives way to machines designed to better respond to co-worker requests and needs.



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