1 , 2005
Cynthia Breazeal directs the Robotic Life group at MIT's
Media Lab. In "Leonardo the Lovable" Alan meets one of Cynthia's
latest creations, an adorable little robot that's hard to
resist. Throughout her career, Breazeal's been revolutionizing
the essence of robot/human interactions. The machines she
designs aren't black boxes meant to perform a single, specific
task. Breazeal develops social robots who learn from and respond
to the people in their environments. She's refining the way
people and robots work together, by figuring out how the machines
can be more like us instead of forcing us to adapt to the
requirements of the machines.
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her first interest in robots:
As with a lot of things in life, in retrospect you can go
back and make a very clear path of how you got there and have
it make perfect sense. But as you're actually going through
the process there's a lot of serendipity involved. I often
tell people that my first fascination with robots was seeing
the first Star Wars when I was a little girl in grade school.
autonomous robots from a galaxy far, far away first
sparked Cynthia Breazeal's interest.
just fell in love with R2D2 and C3PO, as did, of course, all
of my classmates! It was certainly not unique or unusual.
So that was my first real fascination, I guess, with intelligent,
social, personality-rich machines. I was old enough to know
that they didn't really exist and I was old enough to know
that they may never exist as long as I was alive, but that
was the moment where I became aware of the notion of this
special kind of robot, which is very different from the way
that robots had been portrayed in cinema, as well as real
life. The fact that these robots were full-fledged characters
that had rich personalities, that had friendships with people,
that was a very different viewpoint than I'd certainly been
exposed to at 10 years old.
how she got started on her career path:
family is very science and technology oriented. So it's no
surprise that I ended up doing a career based on science and
technology. But growing up I was more interested in medicine,
being a doctor, and that lasted pretty much through high school.
My parents had encouraged me to major in engineering, and
their argument was that it keeps your doors open it certainly
still allows you to go to a great med school, but if you decide
you don't want to go to grad school you can still get a very
good job with a degree in engineering. It was a very practical
decision, very sound advice.
I ended up majoring in electrical and computer engineering
at UC Santa Barbara. At that time in college, I decided that
what I really wanted to do was be an astronaut. To do that
I would have to be a mission specialist, which means being
a scientist with some sort of science related to the mission
of why you're going up. So I thought that space robotics would
be a great thing to get a doctorate in it's certainly relevant
to a lot of missions. So that's how I ended up going back
to robotics. I remember my junior year I had a friend who
had just read an article about planetary rovers and was talking
about how cool they are and I was thinking, 'yeah they are
pretty darn cool.' At Santa Barbara they had a robotics center
that I worked in part time and over the summers, so I sort
of got my hands dirty.
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