Social credibility and safety of assistive home companions
In order to be accepted by end-users, assistive robots in a domestic environment must demonstrate behaviour which is empathic and socially interactive, thereby achieving a certain minimum degree of social credibility.
In addition to this, these assistive robots must also perform functions important to safety. We hypothesise that there is a link between social credibility and effective performance of safety-related behaviours. For example, a robot with low social credibility may be perceived as annoying or irritating. This can lead to user disengagement with the robot, ranging from ignoring its alerts to switching it off. Because a robot's safety behaviours are based on alerting the user, user disengagement reduces the effectiveness of these safety behaviours and makes it difficult to adequately assure safety.
We have already identified trends that provide some indication of how safety assurance might be affected by an autonomous system's social behaviours in this domain in an interactive experiment at the [UH Robot House](https://robothouse.herts.ac.uk). The most notable impact is on users' willingness to accept the robot's assessment of hazards and the extent to which the user considers it necessary to cross-check these against their own experience.
Users who experienced a socially non-credible robot indicated that they were checking to see if the robot was "right" about the existence of the hazard.
This behaviour of disbelief was seen most clearly with a minor hazard, with the results demonstrating that participants who experienced a socially credible robot were more likely to accept the robot's assessment of a situation, even where this directly contradicts their own experience. This general effect can be taken to indicate that when it comes to assessment of safety-critical situations, users are more likely to believe a robot that they consider socially intelligent instead of one lacking social competency.
A discussion on the relation between a robot's social credibility and is safety authority and results of the interactive experiment have been published 2019 at the 9th International Conference on Performance, Safety and Robustness in Complex Systems (Menon, 2019) and the 11th International Conference on Social Robotics (Holthaus, 2019).
Menon, C., and Holthaus, P. Does a Loss of Social Credibility Impact Robot Safety? Balancing Social and Safety Behaviours of Assistive Robots, in proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Performance, Safety and Robustness in Complex Systems, pp. 18 – 25, 2019) was awarded a Best Paper award at PESARO19 Holthaus, P., Menon, C. & Amirabdollahian, A. How A Robot's Social Credibility Affects Safety Performance, in Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Social Robotics, 2019