Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Katie Winkle

Uppsala University

Research Focus

Katie Winkle’s research focus is human-robot interaction for socially assistive robots. Specifically, she works to design and deliver human-robot interactions that are effective and ethical, trustworthy by design. This involves conducting participatory design and automation of robots, as well as developing new methods of robot design/development which can facilitate this, and conducting experimental studies examining how robots can influence user behavior, whilst also considering the potential societal and ethical implications of deploying such robots ‘in the real world’.

My plans for the fellowship period

During my fellowship, I will investigate the use of participatory design and automation of social robots, working with children, teachers and other domain experts, to tackle some of the key risks and opportunities identified in UNICEF’s recent Policy Guidance on AI for Children. This will include developing ways to support children being involved in the automation of robots designed for their use – e.g. developing robots that can be ‘taught’, by children themselves, how best to help them.

I will also examine whether robots with more diverse, co-designed robot ‘personalities’ can better engage and prompt inclusion of e.g. girls, children from minority or marginalized groups and/or disabilities in learning activities, with the aim of creating more inclusive classroom environments. My hope is that, via the fellowship, I will be able to connect with other researchers from outside of computer science, with more expertise in child psychology, behaviour and education, in order to take an interdisciplinary approach to investigating these research topics.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

The long-term goal of my work is to minimize disparities in which kind of children get to benefit from socially assistive robots. In particular, thinking about educational settings and learning environments, I want to help make sure that we are using robots and other digital technologies to reduce, rather than exasperate, learning inequalities.

My focus on making robot design, control and automation participatory with, and open to, children, teachers, parents etc., also supports them in better understanding exactly how digital technologies and artificial intelligence, such that they also better understand their capabilities, limitations, and the ethical risks they might pose.

This is hugely important as technological advancements seem to be accelerating faster than the public’s understanding can keep up, and we need to equip young people with the ability to critically reflect on technologies being designed for their use, and to evaluate the ways in such technologies might be influencing themselves and those around them.