26 June 2019

Teaching Robots What Humans Want

Researchers combined two different ways of setting goals for robots into a single process, which performed better than either of its parts alone in both simulations and real-world experiments. The team's new system for providing instruction to robots (known as reward functions) combines demonstrations, in which humans show the robot what to do, and user preference surveys, in which people answer questions about how they want the robot to behave. They developed a way of producing multiple questions at once, which could be answered in quick succession by one person or distributed among several people. This update sped the process 15 to 50 times compared to producing questions one-by-one. 

The new combination system begins with a person demonstrating a behavior to the robot. That can give autonomous robots a lot of information, but the robot often struggles to determine what parts of the demonstration are important. People also don't always want a robot to behave just like the human that trained it. For this study, the group used the slower single question method, but they plan to integrate multiple-question surveys in later work. In tests, the team found that combining demonstrations and surveys was faster than just specifying preferences and, when compared with demonstrations alone, about 80 percent of people preferred how the robot behaved when trained with the combined system.

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