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Carnegie Mellon Faculty Will Share Visions of Robots, AI and Big Data at "Summer Davos" University Sending Large Delegation to World Economic Forum Conference in China

Byron SpiceThursday, September 3, 2015

Attendees at next week’s World Economic Forum meeting in Dalian, China, will have a chance to remotely drive CMU’s Andy lunar rover across this moon-like landscape at the LaFarge aggregate quarry in West Mifflin.

Carnegie Mellon University is sending the largest delegation of any university to the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China, next week, along with robots and Big Data visualization demonstrations that will run throughout the three-day event.

"Carnegie Mellon is always on the cutting edge of technology innovation, particularly technologies that collaborate with people to address the most pressing challenges of our time, so the World Economic Forum meetings are natural venues in which to share our ideas and demonstrate our technologies," said Justine Cassell, CMU's associate vice provost of technology strategy and impact.

"The Annual Meeting of the New Champions, held in China each year, attracts business, government and civil society leaders who are looking for exactly these sorts of discoveries that will speed the rate of technological progress, while ensuring economic prosperity for all," added Cassell, who is a member of the WEF's Global Agenda Council on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, the Global Agenda Meta-Council on the Future of Health, and the Steering Committee for the WEF New Visions for Education project.

More than 1,500 global leaders in business, government, civil society, academia and media are expected to attend this year's meeting in Dalian, often called "Summer Davos" in reference to the WEF's influential winter conference in Davos, Switzerland. Fifteen CMU faculty members, students and staff will be participating in a number of presentations and demonstrations throughout the conference.

One highlight on Wednesday will be an IdeasLab presented by CMU on "Machine Learning for Health." Andrew Moore, dean of the School of Computer Science and author of a recent WEF commentary on how artificial intelligence can make people healthier, will introduce the session, which will cover such topics as using machine learning to predict neuro-degenerative disease, using predictive analytics to prevent epidemics, and the ways in which machine learning might help doctors, hospitals and health insurers.

Jason Hong, associate professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute; Tom Mitchell, head of the Machine Learning Department; Daniel Neill, associate professor of information systems; and Aarti Singh, assistant professor of machine learning, will be discussion leaders, while Jeffrey Drazen, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, will serve as facilitator.

Moore also will be part of a Thursday panel discussion, "Navigating the Next Technological Revolution," chaired by Klaus Schwab, the WEF's founder and executive chairman.

Carnegie Mellon's preeminence in robotic technology will be on display throughout the conference in a "Meet the Robots" exhibition curated by Cassell in collaboration with WEF staff. In a demonstration led by Robotics Professor William "Red" Whittaker, participants will be given the chance to remotely drive CMU's Andy lunar rover half a world away near Pittsburgh. Andy will traverse a pit at the LaFarge North America's aggregate mining site in West Mifflin, which, under the artificial lighting necessary during what will be nighttime in Pennsylvania, will resemble a lunar landscape.

Robotics Professor Ralph Hollis will demonstrate his Ballbot, a robot about the width and height of a person that moves and balances atop a sphere the size of a bowling ball. By employing dynamic balance, Ballbot can maneuver in offices, homes and other environments designed for humans.

Cassell will demonstrate "virtual peers," animated video characters that can engage students in conversation. Typically displayed on large video flatscreens, these virtual peers have been used to assess and strengthen the social skills of autistic children and to investigate the role of vernacular in the classroom, among other applications.

Whittaker, Cassell and Hollis will also be part of a Thursday panel on "Robots Without Borders" that will examine the potential roles for, and implications of, robots and how to maximize their benefits to society. Rodney Brooks, founder of ReThink Robotics, will participate in the discussion, which will be facilitated by noted British broadcaster Nik Gowing.

Inside the exhibit hall of the Dalian International Conference Center, the WEF has constructed a dedicated, glass-enclosed presentation space for Carnegie Mellon's CREATE Lab to demonstrate its unique Earth Time-Lapse technology for visualizing large databases and making them "explorable."

Using a nine-screen video hyperwall, Robotics Professor Illah Nourbakhsh and Robotics Institute Senior Systems Scientist Randy Sargent will make 20 presentations over the three days using Landsat satellite imagery and other visualizations to explore Asian industrialization, climate change, deforestation and the impact of energy production. Their technology, used in such projects as Time Machine and the BreatheCam that tracks Pittsburgh's air pollution, enables users to better understand massive amounts of data by letting them seamlessly move back and forth through time and to focus on areas of interest as necessary.

In addition to the demos, Nourbakhsh will join Matthew Hansen, a remote sensing specialist at the University of Maryland, for a BetaZone session on Wednesday on "Discovering Disruptive Change with Big Data."

Louis-Philippe Morency, associate professor in CMU's Language Technologies Institute, will be recognized by the WEF as one of this year's class of Young Scientists — scientists under the age of 40 selected for their contributions to advancing the frontiers of science, engineering or technology in areas of high societal impact. Morency's research focuses on the use of computer vision, machine learning and social psychology to analyze, recognize and predict subtle human communicative behaviors during social interactions. He foresees applications in medicine, robotics and education, among other areas.

On Friday, Morency will participate in a BetaZone discussion, led by Cassell, on "How to Build an Intelligent Machine."

CMU spinoff Neon, co-founded by Psychology Department Head Michael Tarr and Neon CEO Sophie Lebrecht, will be recognized at the Dalian meeting as one of the world's 49 most promising Technology Pioneers. Neon uses neuroscience and machine learning to automatically select the video and photo images that resonate best with users.

Many of the conference's public sessions are available via streaming video or as posted videos. To follow the events, visit the meeting's website. For more online information on CMU's participation, visit its World Economic Forum page.

CMU is one of only 25 universities in the world — 12 in the United States — that have been invited to join the WEF's Global University Leaders Forum (GULF) and participate in WEF meetings such as Dalian and Davos.

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Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 |