(Or, Look Who’s Talking about Robots that Bake Cookies)
Talk 1 – “How to Teach a Robot to Bake Cookies” by Mario Bollini
This talk will teach you how to teach a robot to bake cookies, or in academic speak, it will discuss “motion and task planning for a mobile manipulator in semi-structured human environments.” It will tell the heartwarming story of a robot that yearned to leave the lab and enter the kitchen, punctuated with every roadblock reality placed in its path.
Mario Bollini is a local entrepreneur who earned his Master’s degree from MIT by teaching a robot to autonomously bake. He currently is the Chief Technology officer of GRIT, a local social enterprise that designs off-road wheelchairs for developing countries. He is also the founder of Democratech, a local design collaborative that crowd-funded Sprout, a plantable pencil that can grow into flowers and herbs.
Talk 2 – “How We Complicate Things for Babies to Make Language Learning Easy” by Mohinish Shukla
What kind of learner is a human baby? We used to believe that the baby was a blank canvas that experience painstakingly painted on in incremental steps. While studying how infants pick up the structure of language spoken around them, we now know that this picture is wrong. Instead, babies arrive equipped with a Swiss-army-knife toolkit of cognitive capacities that help them rapidly impose structure on what they perceive. According to the old, incremental view, learning is a step-wise process, where babies learn simple stuff, then use that knowledge to learn harder stuff. In this talk, Mo will describe results that show 6-month-olds succeeding at a word-learning task that 9-month-olds typically fail!
Mo started studying microbiology and molecular genetics, switched to ecology, then neurophysiology, and somehow ended up studying how humans learn language. He received a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati in Trieste, Italy, and then spent four years in Rochester, NY, as a post-doctoral fellow. He currently is one of three principal investigators at the UMass Boston Baby Lab.