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Robotics ‘legend’ looks into the future

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Ted talk: roboticist Ayanna Howard

A scientist dubbed “a robotics legend” by business magazine Forbes is to make a presentation at a major conference in Bermuda.

Ayanna Howard will discuss whether humans should trust robots at the TEDx event next month.

Dr Howard is a lecturer, researcher and innovator recognised as one of the 23 most powerful female engineers in the world by US financial publication Business Insider.

Her latest work involved looking at ways humans and robots interact.

She said: “Robots are continuing to be integrated into our lives and are capable of helping us in our daily activities.

“However, we find that people tend to exhibit similar behaviours with these robots as when interacting with other people and so may misunderstand the risks associated with deferring their decisions to a robot.

“This is especially true in cases where robots take on expert roles, such as in healthcare.

“Bias further impacts this potential risk in that these robotic systems are learning by mimicking our own thinking processes, inheriting our own implicit human biases.

“This TED talk will discuss this phenomena through lessons learnt in the field and some guiding thoughts for the future.”

Dr Howard has worked at US space agency Nasa to improve the intelligence of robots for future Mars missions.

She was inspired by the television show The Bionic Woman to pursue a career in science.

Dr Howard, chairwoman of the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, gained her first degree in engineering from Brown University and a masters and PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California.

She is the cofounder and chief technology officer of Zyrobotics, a company set up to develop science, technology, engineering and maths educational tools for children.

Dr Howard will join seven other speakers, whose talks will range from the design of new drugs to how stress and learning capability develop during childhood.

She said that Bermudians must embrace Stem learning and computer sciences to do well in the workplaces of the future.

She added: “The jobs of tomorrow have yet to be invented. So, young students should embrace the fundamentals of Stem, including computer science and coding.

“What’s nice is that there are amazing resources available online for self-teaching on these basic concepts. Explore and expand on what is available.”

Dr Howard built her career on intelligent technology designed to adapt to a human world.

Her work in artificial intelligence, technology and robotics has resulted in more than 250 academic publications.

Dr Howard said: “Since AI is built upon the interconnection of computing and people, an island like Bermuda has an exciting opportunity to build talent and capacity for not only training the next generation of experts, but also in utilising AI to enhance services, such as in education, healthcare and government.

“There are open resources that can bridge some of the gaps with respect to limited resources in schools and communities.

“At Georgia Tech, we have a full, online masters programme in computer science at reasonable cost, which has been shown to broaden opportunities to a wider population of students.”

Dr Howard said that, as a black woman, she had faced hurdles in her career.

But she added that persistence and professionalism had helped her to overcome them.

Dr Howard said: “The primary barrier in being a woman of colour in Stem was in ensuring that my voice was heard and opinion respected.

“As such, I focused on education, ensuring that I learnt enough so that I could support all of my ideas with facts, becoming a legitimate expert in my field.”

She added: “To break through stereotypes, you have to achieve more than what’s expected when pursuing any and all opportunities.”

TEDx will be held at the Fairmont Southampton on October 6 from 12pm to 6pm. Tickets are available from ptix.bm

Ayanna Howard