Plenary Speakers

Leading Expert in Social Robotics and MIT Media Lab Research Specialist

Dr. Kate Darling

Leading Expert in Social Robotics and MIT Media Lab Research Specialist

INFORMS Roundtable Sponsored Plenary Speaker

The Future of Human-Robot Interaction

The robots are coming and they’re getting smarter, evolving from single-task devices (think Roomba) into machines that can make their own decisions and autonomously navigate public spaces. From transportation systems, hospitals and the military, to the robotization of our workplaces and households, robots will be everywhere and will increasingly interact with people.

Whether you find it exhilarating or terrifying (or both), progress in robotics and related fields like AI raises new ethical quandaries and challenges legal codes created for a world in which a sharp line separates man from machine.

Drawing from her recent work exploring humans’ emotional responses to robots, Dr. Kate Darling answers questions like:

  • What happens when robots move from behind factory walls into shared spaces and begin interacting with humans?
  • What opportunities and challenges should we anticipate in the future of human-robot interaction?
  • Where does the true potential of AI and robotics lie, and will robots supplement human ability, or replace it?
  • Why do people treat robots like living things, and why does that matter?
  • What can and can’t robots and AI do?
  • What societal challenges will we face in a future with robots (ethical, legal, social)?

Dr. Darling examines why people fear some robots and empathize with others, while also prompting – and answering – questions about what society’s relationship with these robots could look like in the future. What follows is in part an examination of the technology itself, but ultimately, offers a window into how it’s poised to change the way we relate to each other and our own humanity – and why it matters.

About Dr. Kate Darling

A leading expert in robot ethics, Dr. Kate Darling is a research specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, where she investigates social robotics and conducts experimental studies on human-robot interaction. Exclusively represented by Leading Authorities speakers bureau, she explores the emotional connection between people and life-like machines, seeking to influence technology design and policy direction. Dr. Darling’s writing and research anticipate difficult questions that lawmakers, engineers, and the wider public will need to address as human-robot relationships evolve in the coming decades. 

Forever interested in how technology intersects with society, she has a background in law and economics as well as intellectual property. Dr. Darling has researched economic incentives in copyright and patent systems and has taken a role as intellectual property expert at multiple academic and private institutions. Named one of the “Women in Robotics You Need to Know About” by Robohub, she currently serves as intellectual property policy advisor to the director of the MIT Media Lab.

Her passion for technology and robots has led her to interdisciplinary fields. After co-teaching a robot ethics course at Harvard Law School with Professor Lawrence Lessig, she increasingly works at the intersection of law and robotics, with a focus on legal and social issues. Kate is a former fellow and current affiliate at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and a former fellow at the Yale Information Society Project and is also an affiliate at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. 

Kate’s work has been featured in VogueThe New YorkerThe Guardian, BBC, NPR, PBS, The Boston GlobeForbes, CBC, WIRED magazine, Boston MagazineThe Atlantic, Slate, Die Zeit, The Japan Times, and many more major publications and outlets. She is a contributing writer to Robohub and IEEE Spectrum and speaks and holds workshops covering some of the more interesting developments in the world of robotics, and where we might find ourselves in the future.

Kate graduated from law school with honors and holds a doctorate of sciences from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) and an honorary doctorate of sciences from Middlebury College. In 2017, the American Bar Association honored her legal work with the Mark T. Banner award in Intellectual Property. She was also recognized in 2017 as a “Radar Thinker” by Thinkers50. She is the caretaker for several domestic robots, including her Pleos Yochai, Peter, and Mr. Spaghetti.

Chris Wiggins headshot

Chris Wiggins

Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics at Columbia University and the Chief Data Scientist at The New York Times
Data Science at The New York Times
About Chris Wiggins

Chris Wiggins is an associate professor of applied mathematics at Columbia University and the Chief Data Scientist at The New York Times.

At Columbia he is a founding member of the executive committee of the Data Science Institute, and of the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics as well as the Department of Systems Biology, and is affiliated faculty in Statistics.

He is a co-founder and co-organizer of hackNY (http://hackNY.org), a nonprofit which since 2010 has organized once a semester student hackathons and the hackNY Fellows Program, a structured summer internship at NYC startups.

Prior to joining the faculty at Columbia he was a Courant Instructor at NYU (1998-2001) and earned his PhD at Princeton University (1993-1998) in theoretical physics.

He is currently writing a book on the history and ethics of data with Professor Matt Jones (Columbia) forthcoming from W. W. Norton & Company in 2021.

He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and is a recipient of Columbia’s Avanessians Diversity Award.