Dr. David Hanson, a 2007 UT Dallas PhD alumnus and founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics, described “Bringing Robots to Life,” in a recent campus visit that served as warmup event for the upcoming Emerging Technologies Summit.
Hanson’s presentation explained the evolution of robots and the associated risks of creating artificial intelligence technology that could surpass human intelligence. He also offered a plan to reduce those risks. It involved creating super-intelligent but benevolent beings with whom humans can relate.
Hanson visited UT Dallas April 10 for a lunch and reception at the Blackstone LaunchPad, followed by a tour of the Humanoid, Biorobotics and Smart Systems Lab. The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which is based in the Naveen Jindal School of Management, presented the warmup event and will host the EmTech Summit.
Hanson’s visit ended with a presentation in the Jindal School’s Davidson Auditorium about a future he thinks will involve humanoid robots. He said there are few places in the world like UT Dallas that would facilitate a humanities approach to artificial intelligence and that he “is forever thankful” to the community for welcoming his research.
“I love the UT Dallas community,” Hanson said. “Anything I can do to make and maintain my connections with this community is meaningful.… I also appreciated the warm outreach to me, and I’m looking for friends and collaborators. We need to be inspired by the work at UT Dallas as well.”
Rafael Martin, interim vice president of research, offered the opening remarks at the reception. He saw the event as a good way to reconnect with alumni, especially distinguished ones such as Hanson, who earned his PhD in aesthetic studies and interactive arts and engineering at UT Dallas.
“Events like this one bring students, faculty and alumni together around topics are at the forefront of technology,” he said. “It’s really a great pleasure for me, personally, to see someone who I worked with when he was a student here come back and start giving back to the University.”
Having guided Hanson while he was a student, Dr. Dennis M. Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and Ignacy and Celina Rockover Professor of Humanities, was proud to attend an event that featured one of his alumni “stars.” Kratz said Hanson represents the ideal of how a student should be educated in the 21st century.
“David does art, technology, science — all wrapped in the humanities,” he said. “What this does is remind people that an education that doesn’t pay attention to meaning is a third of an education. David shows us the importance of embedding inventions in a larger context. All science can tell you is how things work. What humanities does is examine the way in which we invest our lives with meaning.”
Bryan Chambers, director of the Blackstone LaunchPad and one of the principal organizers of the Hanson event and the EmTech Summit, appreciated the interdisciplinary and interconnected approach that Hanson Robotics takes. He said it is exactly the kind of thinking he tries to instill in the students who come through LaunchPad programs as they try to start businesses.
“Trying to get students to see outside of their major, their specific discipline, their usual approach to thinking and problem-solving is exactly what we do in our program,” Chambers said. “Although it’s not easy to do, it is an increasingly necessary skill that needs to be mastered to be able to succeed in such a complex, competitive business environment. I’m grateful that students got to meet Hanson today and watch him model that approach for them. They will see something similar at the conference.”
The Emtech Summit, which will be held April 18 and 19, is the brainchild of Chambers and Steve Guengerich, executive director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Guengerich and Chambers agree that the summit’s innovation theme aligns seamlessly with the institute’s vision, which is to prepare the UT Dallas community for entrepreneurship.
“As Hanson’s visit revealed, we do things a little differently here at UT Dallas, which is required at the forefront of innovation,” Guengerich said. “Just like today, you can expect the unexpected at the EmTech Summit.”
Limited seating is still available for the EmTech Summit, which will bring thought leaders in fintech (emerging financial technology), blockchain and artificial intelligence to campus.
— Jimmie R. Markham