Home | Industry & Research | US spy money funds Aussie research into human reasoning
Monash University's Dr Kevin Korb and professor Ann Nicholson will help develop artificial intelligence to improve human reasoning. Photo: Monash

US spy money funds Aussie research into human reasoning

The University of Melbourne and Monash University have received multimillion dollar grants from a US government intelligence agency to conduct research aimed at improving human reasoning.

UniMelb has been allocated $24.9 million from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a research investment body run by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

A multidisciplinary team from UniMelb, dubbed Smartly-assembled Wiki-style Argument Marshalling (SWARM), will research and develop software that will, in theory, help decision makers evaluate their reasoning.

SWARM co-lead, associate professor Fiona Fidler, said this is necessary because people’s thinking is hampered by their own biases, like the tendency to only believe or search for evidence that supports one’s views.

“It is a problem compounded by the internet social media,” Fidler said. “People can easily surround themselves with information that reinforces their own biases.”

Associate professor Timothy van Gelder, a critical thinking and reasoning expert and SWARM team member, said while the software developed will be initially used to assist the US intelligence community, the research could help improve public discussion generally.

“We believe we can build a better tool for intelligence analysts if we can find something that would work even in the public domain, dealing with hotly contested issues such as climate change,” van Gelder said.

Monash University also received US$14 million ($18 million) to create an artificial intelligence that will help refine people’s reasoning. It will specifically focus on enabling intelligence analysts to improve the way they build and test arguments about probable outcomes.

The Monash team will work with three UK universities – University College London; University of Strathclyde; and Birkbeck, University of London – to create the technology.

“What we’re developing is a sophisticated tool that will improve the quality of the analysts’ reasoning by enabling them to better assess the value of their evidence,” explained Dr Kevin Korb, chief investigator of the project. “Using our interface should also increase the reliability and acceptance of their arguments, and therefore improve the decision making of the people that they report to.”

These two grants are part of IARPA’s $131.3 million CREATE program, a funding initiative dedicated to investing in research that could improve human reasoning.

UniMelb and Monash were two of only four universities to receive grants. The other two were Syracuse University, New York, and George Mason University, Virginia, in the US.

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