Oxford University teaches robots to keep secrets

News 6 Mar, 2014

Humanoid robots present new security problems, it is claimed.

University of Oxford researchers are working to address privacy concerns caused by the way we interact with humanoid robots.

These robot ‘friends’ could betray the trust of the people they come into contact with.

According to the academics, robots are expected to be walking around on our streets within the next decade and assisting people with their daily lives, a prospect that has prompted security and privacy concerns.

Dr Ian Brown, associate director of Oxford University’s Cyber Security Centre and senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, said: “When we begin to interact with friendly-looking humanoid robots, our expectations and assumptions shift.

“New questions arise about how much we trust them. Some people might form an emotional attachment to them, particularly in situations where robots play the role of companions.”

Brown argues this raises new questions around privacy, such as robots accidentally revealing the identities of people they have ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ when transmitting visual and audio data.

Therefore, Brown, who is leading the £2 million three-year project, and his team are trying to find ways to embed privacy technology and protocols.

“It is important...their information gathering is restricted to what is needed to interact and carry out their tasks, and information about the identity of their human users is kept to a minimum. Otherwise, these robot ‘friends’ could betray the trust of the people they come into contact with, passing on information to third parties,” he warned.

Dr Joss White, who is working with Brown on the research, added: “While they provide opportunities to make our lives easier, the potential loss of control over this information should concern us.

“At Oxford we have been exploring how individuals can maintain control over information about themselves, while still enjoying the potential benefits of robotic technology.”

Brown will be presenting his research at the upcoming Oxford London Lecture, to be held in Westminster on 18 March. More information on the event can be found here.