WPI Hosts International Artificial Intelligence in Design '00

Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

Looking to the Future: From Left, David C. Brown, coordinator of the Artificial Intelligence in Design Group at WPI, Rodney A. Brooks, director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and John Gero, co-director of the Ley Centre of Design Computing and Cognition at the University of Sydney, share ideas at the 6th Internationla Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Design '00 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute

WORCESTER, Mass. - Every other year, researchers in the field of artificial intelligence in design gather to share their findings. Worcester Polytechnic Institute hosted the 6th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Design '00 from June 26 to 29.

The conference was preceded by two days of workshops on the latest and most controversial research topics. Keynote speaker Rodney A. Brooks, professor of computer science and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, enthralled the more than 100 participants with a presentation on robots that interact with human beings.

"Throughout history people have wanted to build a machine that behaves like a human," Brooks says. In his research, he has taught robots to see an object, then track and touch it.

"The robot can learn to do this with error messages," Brooks says - similar to the kind of feedback a child gets from his parent.

He has also developed robot-human communication that relies on emotional content rather than word recognition. Four basic human expressions, commonly used between mother and baby, are used to elicit a response from the robot: approval, prohibition, attention focusing and comfort. The robot, Kismet, which resembles a Furby toy, responds to human tone of voice with amazingly human-like expressions. When a person speaks disapprovingly to Kismet, it hangs its head, its ears droop and its eyes lower. It might not be a typical conversation, but interactive communication nonetheless takes place.

"The person adapts to the robot in the same way you might adapt to a 3-year-old or an elderly relative," says Brooks, who is also chairman and chief technology officer for IRobot Corp. of Somerville, Mass. The company has collaborated with Hasbro Inc. to create "My Real Baby," an interactive doll that speaks and responds to a child's actions.

Brooks' work is just one aspect of artificial intelligence in design, a discipline involved in making computers behave intelligently to design, or support the design of, manmade objects, according to local conference chair David C. Brown, professor of computer science and coordinator of the Artificial Intelligence in Design Group at WPI.

"The field examines how to store knowledge in computers and how to make computers reason to produce results that look like they are produced by someone with intelligence," he says.

The conference will help to shape the future of artificial intelligence in design.

"The sort of things people are talking about here will end up in computer-aided design software five to 10 years from now," Brown says. Among the topics are theories of design, as well as "shape grammars," which could be described as a recipe for how to design the shape of something.

Three WPI students gave talks at the conference based on research they've done with Brown.

Janet Burge of Stow, Mass., a Ph.D. student in her second year at WPI, spoke on keeping track of design decisions. Burge won the Best Presentation Award at the conference for her presentation of the paper, titled "Reasoning With Design Rationale," by J. E. Burge and D. C. Brown. A committee consisting of Alex Duffy (University of Strathclyde), Mary Lou Maher (University of Sydney), Rivka Oxman (Technion) and John Clarkson (University of Cambridge) judged the award.

Dan Grecu of Newton, Mass., who earned his Ph.D. in May, talked about how design teams evolve over time. He received a WPI Sigma Xi Graduate Research Award for the Ph.D. thesis on which his talk was based. Cirrus Shakeri of Westborough, Mass., who earned his Ph.D. a year ago, spoke on design problems involving multiple disciplines.

WPI's AID '00 wraps up this Thursday. The next conference of its kind will be held in Cambridge, England, in 2002. For more information, contact Brown at 508-831-5618, by e-mail at dcb@cs.wpi.edu, or go to the conference Web site at http://www.arch.usyd.edu.au/kcdc/conferences/aid00/.

Founded in 1865, WPI enrolls 2,700 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students in science, engineering, management, humanities and arts, and social sciences. Under the WPI Plan, undergraduates complete three projects focusing on their major course of study, the humanities, and the interactions among science, technology and society.