With a reported 5 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, access to communication technologies has reached unprecedented levels and has fundamentally altered the ways in which we experience computational systems. Once delivered through a desktop machine to an office worker, computing has become an interwoven feature of everyday life across the globe in a way that profoundly affects us all. We are now interconnected using mobile devices; we routinely invoke remote services through a global "cloud" infrastructure and increasingly rely on computational devices in our everyday life. Computational devices monitor our health, entertain us, guide us and keep us safe and secure. However, this explosive growth in these devices and on-line services is only a precursor to an "era of ubiquity," where each of us will routinely rely upon a plethora of smart and proactive computers that we carry with us, access at home and at work, and that are embedded into the world around us.
As computation increasingly pervades the world around us, it will profoundly change the ways in which we work with computers. Rather than issuing instructions to passive machines, we will increasingly work in partnership with highly inter-connected computational components (aka agents) that are able to act autonomously and intelligently. Specifically, humans and software agents will continually and flexibly establish a range of collaborative relationships with one another, forming human-agent collectives (HACs) to meet their individual and collective goals. This vision of people and computational agents operating at a global scale offers tremendous potential and, if realised correctly, will help us meet the key societal challenges of sustainability, inclusion, and safety that are core to our future. However, these benefits are mirrored by the potential of equally concerning pitfalls as we shift to becoming increasingly dependent on systems that interweave human and computational endeavour.
As systems based on human-agent collectives grow in scale, complexity and temporal extent, we will increasingly require a principled science that allows us to reason about the computational and human aspects of these systems if we are to avoid developments that are unsafe, unreliable and lack the appropriate safeguards to ensure societal acceptance.
Delivering this science is the core research objective of this Programme. In more detail, it seeks to establish the new science that is needed to understand, build and apply HACs that symbiotically interleave human and computer systems to an unprecedented degree. To this end, it brings together three world-leading academic groups from the Universities of Southampton, Oxford and Nottingham (with multi-disciplinary expertise in the areas of artificial intelligence, agent-based computing, machine learning, decentralised information systems, participatory systems, and ubiquitous computing) with industrial collaborators (initially BAE Systems, PRI Ltd and the Australian Centre for Field Robotics) to collectively establish the foundational scientific underpinnings of these systems and drive these understandings to real-world applications in the critical domains of future energy networks, and disaster response.