AI-Visionaries: Building Tengai's Human Interface

Furhat Robotics is the conversational AI and social robotics start-up that has built Tengai’s physical body. They also invented the platform that holds the robot’s D&I software. Furhat’s vision is to create a human-like computer interface that enables people to interact with machines in the same way that humans interact with each other. And their social robotics platform is today one of the world’s most advanced.

Based in Stockholm, Furhat Robotics was born out of a research project at KTH (Royal Institute of Technology). In 2018, they started the collaboration with recruitment and staffing agency TNG.

The shared mission was to take the next step in unbiased recruitment by developing Tengai Unbiased, the world’s first social robot. Tengai was therefore built with a diversity and inclusion software, specifically designed to reduce bias in the recruitment process and create a more fair candidate experience.

Constant Development

TNG created Tengai by combing Furhat Robotics’ expertize in social robots with their unique and unbiased recruitment methodology. Furhat built the physical robot and the conversational platform, while TNG in the fall of 2018 started shaping Tengai and its software. The goal was to make the AI-robot more human-like and capable of performing unbiased job interviews.

“While Furhat Robotics provided the conversational platform, TNG had to design the D&I software application that is the foundation of Tengai’s behavior and her capacity to conduct structured and situational-based interviews.”

A group of recruiters and assessment experts at TNG carried on this extensive work, together with the company’s candidate experience team. A work that is far from complete, as the team constantly continues to develop the HR Tech tool. For example, Tengai’s code is checked on a regular basis to avoid algorithm bias.

Why a Physical Robot?

Having a robot with a body and a face in the same room with a human is very different from other ways you can have a person interact with technology. Why? There are two key reasons.

1. Co-presence

Co-presence is the effect of sharing the same experience with someone else due to them being in the same physical space. Throughout human evolution, humans have always been co-present with each other. Up until very recently, when the telephone, the radio, TV, and the internet was invented. In other words, a lot of evolution has been fitted to humans interacting in the physical space. This is extremely important for survival, building trust, and emotional connection. Because when we have someone co-present with us in the same space, we believe that they share the same experience as us.

This is also similar to what happens when interacting with Tengai. And it explains why the experience becomes powerful and trustworthy. Tengai has eyes, and a head, which means that the robot can actively show that she is aware of the room, and the user.  Tengai can also maintain eye contact with the human and smile. Which creates a sense of shared experience and connection that would be extremely difficult to replicate in a Skype call.

2. Proximity

Proximity is the study of physical distance and formation. The distance we have with another human when sitting in the same room decides a lot about how the interactions will be. Sitting 1 meter from someone is very different from sitting 2 or 5 meters. Proximity in sociology is a very big field of study of how people interact in the physical space. It also includes how they form relations and engage emotionally and socially depending on the physical setup.

In the context of recruiting, sitting 1–1.5 meters away from a candidate will give a sense of trust and confidence. Something that is probably very difficult to achieve with a Skype call, or by sitting 3–4 meters away. Humans have a very high sensibility to physical distance. This means that being too close is only for very trusted people, and being too far is only for enemies. And so on. Having a robot sit with you in the room means that we are applying similar principles to human cognition as that of when people interact with each other.

All About User Experience

Furhat Robotics are not only experts in physical social robots. They are also pioneers when it comes to how user experience is affecting the future development of AI-robots.

To illustrate, the difference between working with pen-and-paper, a keyboard, a mouse, a touch screen, a smart speaker, an animated character, VR, AR, or a social robot, is all about user experience. You can express any “information” in all of the above. But each medium has its own benefits in how it engages with the user in different tasks. For example, using a keyboard to draw or edit a picture in Photoshop is a very bad interface compared to a mouse. What we believe here is that using a chatbot/online-form to recruit someone is also a very bad interface. And in the case of bias, using a human is perhaps a bad interface.

Sounds interesting?