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Smarter AI Through Psychology (And a some psychological insights from AI) - Nikolos Gurney

November 17, 2022 @ 10:30 am MST

Nikolos Gurney (Nik)
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Institute for Creative Technologies, University of Southern California

Smarter AI Through Psychology (And some psychological insights from AI)

Join Via Zoom


I am a computational social scientist who researches how humans think about what machines know and how machines can think about what humans know. I completed a Ph.D. in Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Social and Decision Sciences in May of 2020. I am also a first-generation college graduate (Utah State) from South-Central Idaho and most everyone I know calls me Nik.

My research exists at the intersection of human cognition and technology and is best described as an attempt to answer two related questions: 1) How do humans think about the minds of machines? 2) How do (or can) machines think about the minds of humans? I blend behavioral, data, and computer science approaches in service of answering these questions.


Humans maintain a broad set of attitudes (mental states) towards the thinking-things that they encounter. Some illustrative examples are: they believe that others will follow through on promises, hope that pets will remember and abide by basic training while they are home alone, and trust that a fiduciary will act in their best interest. AI systems, from conversational virtual assistants (e.g. Siri) to navigation aids (e.g. Google Maps), are increasingly the subjects of such attitudes. How do the attitudes that humans maintain about these intelligent systems reflect those that they maintain about other humans? How do they differ? And, what do these similarities and differences reveal about human cognition more generally? In this talk, I discuss a series of experiments related to these questions and highlight how they are helping us develop smarter artificial intelligence.