Google has put its trust in Clemson University researcher Richard Pak to provide insights into how a person’s faith in technology can be restored after a failed experience.

Technology, trust, Pak, Clemson

Psychology’s Rich Pak received a Google research award to study trust in technology.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Pak and an associate from George Mason University have received a nearly $100,000 Google Faculty Research Award to study how to rekindle humans’ lost trust in technology. The research has relevance to Google and its research and development arm, Google X, which works on the company’s “moonshot”-type projects, such as Google’s self-driving car.

This is the third research project Google has entrusted to Pak, a renowned human factors psychologist who is nationally recognized for his expertise in human automation interaction research. Joining him in the study is Ewart de Visser, George Mason University human factors research psychologist.

“Whether it’s a digital camera, smartphone, or even a Google search, at some point, we’ve all dealt with a form of technology we think has done us wrong. Research has shown people have a difficult time recovering trust in a technology once it is lost,” said Pak. “With this research, we will examine different ways technology can ‘apologize’ to you so you regain trust in it.”

Pak said technology is inherently unreliable and “making it more reliable isn’t realistic because people become reliant on it and when that occurs, complacency results.” What Dr. de Visser and I will do is look deeper into the effectiveness of trust repair strategies after a violation has occurred.”

The technology is designed to fail at some point, Pak said. “Our experiment will come back to them with different kinds of apologies. The study will measure the user’s response to that apology and then determine which are the most effective in regaining trust in the technology.”

Pak and de Visser expect to have some results from the study by next spring. Eventually, they see their findings helping technology companies, like Google, increase adoption and recovery rates despite automation’s inherent limitations.

“Despite the promise automated technology offers in freeing us from onerous tasks, it has a dark side,” Pak said. “Due to limitations in data quality and the general unpredictability in the environment, autonomous technology is not 100 percent reliable. Our research will look to provide some recourse for when that reliability fails.”

Pak said this type of research is important because at some point, everything is going to be automated. “There are certain things humans can do better than machines, but the rational future is one where machines and humans work together collaboratively,” Pak said.

Google Faculty Research Awards are one-year awards structured as unrestricted gifts to support the research of world-class permanent faculty members at top universities around the world.

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