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October 19, 2017

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Joe Downtown: Speaker to give glimpse into future of ‘cloud robotics’

A Berkeley professor/inventor’s talk about “cloud robotics” – a way to make robots more aware – is likely to stimulate the minds of some and confuse others Friday at the Downtown Project’s Speaker Series.

Ken Goldberg is a professor of industrial engineering and operations research, with a joint appointment in electrical engineering and computer science, at University of California-Berkeley.

A description of cloud robotics on Downtown Project’s website says it is a way to “tap into the Internet’s vast and rapidly-expanding network of computing and data resources to allow robots to be more aware than oblivious, more social than solitary and more like companions that tools.”

While that makes one wonder if it will make dumber robots that tap into the multitudes of political, personal and celebrity-watching websites, the concept is an interesting one, to be sure.

Reading Goldberg’s credentials, which include appointments in the University of California-San Francisco Medical School and the title of Craigslist distinguished professor of new media, one almost wonders if Goldberg is the first living example of one of these super-brained robots.

Goldberg says cloud robotics and “self awareness” in robots is far from the science fiction scenarios behind movies like “Terminator” or “I Robot.” It's more about how robots use information collected from the Internet to become aware of their surroundings.

“So if a robot gets stuck,” he says, giving the example of how it might “see” a suitcase but not know what it is or what to do with it, “it would upload the information and realize that occasionally humans put these black rectangular things on the floor and it’s a suitcase.”

Yeah, yeah. So when do we get the “Terminator”-type self-aware robots?

“I’m more of an on-the-ground guy,” Goldberg says, laughing. “I’m thinking more about the next 20 years than 200 years out. So I don’t really know.”

Wikipedia says that way back in 1994, when Goldberg was in his early 30s, he developed the first robot with a Web interface, subsequently creating Telegarden, which allowed remote visitors (via the Internet) to “view, water and plant seeds in a living garden.”

He helped develop Tele-Actor, where a person moves through a remote environment guided remotely by people on the Internet.

The site says the National Science Foundation awarded Goldberg its Young Investigator Award in 1994 and its Presidential Faculty Fellowship in 1995. In 2000, he won the Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Award and the IEEE Major Educational Innovation Award in 2001.

It doesn’t stop there.

He has also co-written a film with his wife that was selected for the 2006 Sundance and Tribeca film festivals. Oh, and then he did something called the Ballet Mori project that was performed by the San Francisco Ballet and won an Isadora Duncan Dance Award in 2007.

Goldberg chuckles at being accused of being robotically intelligent and assures me he is quite human.

The talk begins at 4 p.m. in the Downtown Project's construction zone trailer at 158 S. Seventh St.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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