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Enhancing Social Interactions via Physiologically-Informed AI

   UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Socially Intelligent Artificial Agents

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  Mr Jared de Bruin  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

For instructions on how to apply, please see: PhD Studentships: UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Socially Intelligent Artificial Agents.


  • Marios Philiastides: School of Psychology
  • Alessandro Vinciarelli: School of Computing Science

Over the past few years major developments in machine learning (ML) have enabled important advancements in artificial intelligence (AI). Firstly, the field of deep learning (DL) – which has enabled models to learn complex input-output functions (e.g. pixels in an image mapped onto object categories), has emerged as a major player in this area. DL builds upon neural network theory and design architectures, expanding these in ways that enable more complex function approximations. The second major advance in ML has combined advances in DL with reinforcement learning (RL) to enable new AI systems for learning state-action policies – in what is often referred to as deep reinforcement learning (DRL) – to enhance human performance in complex tasks. Despite these advancements, however, critical challenges still exist in incorporating AI into a team with human(s). One of the most important challenges is the need to understand how humans value intermediate decisions (i.e. before they generate a behaviour) through internal models of their confidence, expected reward, risk etc. Critically, such information about human decision-making is not only expressed through overt behaviour, such as speech or action, but more subtlety through physiological changes, small changes in facial expression and posture etc. Socially and emotionally intelligent people are excellent at picking up on this information to infer the current disposition of one another and to guide their decisions and social interactions. In this project, we propose to develop a physiologically-informed AI platform, utilizing neural and systemic physiological information (e.g. arousal, stress) ([Fou15][Pis17][Ghe18]) together with affective cues from facial features ([Vin09][Bal16]) to infer latent cognitive and emotional states from humans interacting in a series of social decision-making tasks (e.g. trust game, prisoner’s dilemma etc). Specifically, we will use these latent states to generate rich reinforcement signals to train AI agents (specifically DRL) and allow them to develop a “theory of mind” ([Pre78][Fri05]) in order to make predictions about upcoming human behaviour. The ultimate goal of this project is to deliver advancements towards “closing-the-loop”, whereby the AI agent feeds-back its own predictions to the human players in order to optimise behaviour and social interactions.


[Ghe18] S Gherman, MG Philiastides, “Human VMPFC encodes early signatures of confidence in perceptual decisions”, eLife, 7: e38293, 2018.
[Pis17] MA Pisauro, E Fouragnan, C Retzler, MG Philiastides, “Neural correlates of evidence accumulation during value-based decisions revealed via simultaneous EEG-fMRI”, Nature Communications, 8: 15808, 2017.
[Fou15] E Fouragnan, C Retzler, KJ Mullinger, MG Philiastides, “Two spatiotemporally distinct value systems shape reward-based learning in the human brain”, Nature Communications, 6: 8107, 2015.
[Vin09] A.Vinciarelli, M.Pantic, and H.Bourlard, “Social Signal Processing: Survey of an Emerging Domain“, Image and Vision Computing Journal, Vol. 27, no. 12, pp. 1743-1759, 2009.
[Bal16] T.Baltrušaitis, P.Robinson, and L.-P. Morency. “Openface: an open source facial behavior analysis toolkit.” Proceedings of the IEEE Winter Conference on Applications of Computer Vision, 2016.
[Pre78] D. Premack, G. Woodruff, “Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?”, Behavioral and brain sciences Vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 515-526, 1978.
[Fri05] C. Frith, U. Frith, “Theory of Mind”, Current Biology Vol. 15, no. 17, R644-646, 2005.
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