A new generation of software that will allow robots to "talk" to people is being developed at the University of Aberdeen.
The software translates complex mathematical logic into simple text, which can be easily understood by humans. This enables the computer and the human to "discuss" a plan before a task is undertaken.
The human can interrogate the computer using a keyboard, asking it to provide justifications for its decisions, or provide additional information for the computer to integrate into its plans. The human can also suggest alternatives or point out issues with the chosen course of action.
One of the principal aims of the technology is to build trust between autonomous systems (robots) and humans. Autonomous systems are already an integral part of modern industry, used to carry out tasks without continuous human guidance.
Dr Wamberto Vasconcelos from the University of Aberdeen's School of Natural and Computing Sciences explained that autonomous systems can quickly process huge amounts of information, but in doing so can make mistakes which are not obvious to them or to a human.
"Evidence shows there may be mistrust when there are no provisions to help a human to understand why an autonomous system has decided to perform a specific task, at a particular time, and in a certain way," he explained.
"What we are creating is a new generation of autonomous systems, which are able to carry out a two-way communication with humans."
Vasconcelos said that the ability to converse with an autonomous system enables the human to quickly understand, and if necessary correct, its actions, helping to build confidence in the system.
The research is funded by a £1.1 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Vasconcelos said the software could be ready in less than three years, and could be used in key industry sectors including aerospace, aviation, defense and energy generation and supply.
Earlier this week, the European Commission announced the launch of a new public-privrate partnership (PPP) in the field of robotics, in order to boost the market share of European enterprises.
The market is woth some 15.5 billion per year, and its good health is "a key driver for Europe's growth and competitiveness," the Commission said in a statement.