The Future Everyday Interaction with the Autonomous Internet of Things (A-IoT) is a multidisciplinary, EPSRC funded research project that looks at the interaction space between humans and autonomous agents. Our focus lies on systems of interconnected devices that reach beyond most current incarnations of the IoT to include aspects of autonomy or automation as a key feature.
Recent studies examining the real-world acceptance of a commercial smart thermostat highlighted how errors, limited legibility of the system operation, and excessive user expectations caused frustration and led to some users abandoning the technology. Our own prior work revealed people distrust a potential smart energy infrastructure due to lack of accountability of the ownership, intent, and permitted activities of the autonomous technology. These results suggest that the design of A-IoT systems needs to address several challenges to be made accountable; including, on the system side, designing autonomous decision-making to take into account the uncertain nature of contingent human behaviour; and on the user side, the need to make these systems legible and usable in everyday life. Indeed there is an inherent tension between making a system's operation legible and not overwhelming users with the technical complexity of artificial intelligence algorithms.
The wealth (or "deluge") of data produced by the Internet of Things is likely to keep growing, beyond human capacity to turn it into meaningful information that can be acted on. In Autonomous IoT, data and decisions will be, in part, 'actively' managed by the devices and their software, drawing upon machine learning techniques and optimization algorithms, while still allowing users to make informed choices about their general needs and comfort. Nascent instantiations of the A-IoT range from smart thermostats that learn to autonomously control central heating systems based on the presence of users and their routine, to washing machines that order detergent for delivery when it runs out. But how should interactions with autonomous systems be engineered to support users' daily activities? To what extent may users be willing to delegate agency to A-IoT systems in everyday contexts? These are our key questions.
The research will develop through three iterative phases of work, with increasingly more complex and ambitious A-IoT instantiations responding to anticipated need. The phases are constructed as follows:Phase 1: Essential autonomous ordering
The first phase will consider autonomous ordering of cleaning goods and non-perishable food, hence limiting requirements of the system in terms of time constraints. This will be based on sensing and inference of the level of stock available in the home, and opportunities for autonomous group buying.
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Phase 2: Taking Everyday Contingencies into Account
The second phase will give more emphasis to time-related constraints and changes of plans that affect the user's schedule. In particular the interest lies in just in time deliveries (take away food), and other examples such as laundry & cleaning services.
(sources: https://flic.kr/p/7t5fY7, https://flic.kr/p/9HyH2b, https://flic.kr/p/7uEEEX)
Phase 3: Autonomous Negotiation for Supply Networks
The third and final phase of the project will build on phases 1 and 2 to explore the full vision of an autonomous supply and distribution network. Here we will be looking more explicitly at the bigger picture and consider commercial actors and peer-to-peer networks.