Maja Matarić

Socially Assistive Agents and Robots: What We Need to Learn About People

Digital assistants are becoming ubiquitous, and robots are following closely behind, both entering everyday lives and interacting with non-experts in unstructured settings. Digital assistants provide information and robots do physical work, but both can do much more to serve as important tools for goal-driven challenges in human behavior, such as health-related behavior change. Behavior change is difficult, and requires access to general data / knowledge, but also user data, and strategies for assisting effectively and adaptively. Embodied agents can leverage their expressivity to be more effective, but this involves challenges of embodied communication, social dynamics, and long-term adaptation and learning, bringing together the latest advances in AI, robotics, and human-machine interaction. This talk will discuss advances and opportunities in embodied assistive agents, including socially assistive robotics, and the often surprising and unintuitive role of machine learning, presenting the opportunity to drive the state of the art of those converging technologies with opportunities for impact on major societal challenges.

Maja Matarić is Chan Soon-Shiong Professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics at the University of Southern California, founding director of the USC Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center, and Vice Dean for Research in the Viterbi School of Engineering. Her PhD and MS are from MIT, and BS from the University of Kansas. She is Fellow of AAAS, IEEE, and AAAI, and received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award in Innovation, the Okawa Foundation, NSF Career, MIT TR35, and IEEE RAS Early Career Awards. A pioneer of socially assistive robotics, her research enables robots to help people through social interaction in therapy, rehabilitation, training, and education, developing robot-assisted therapies for autism, stroke, Alzheimer's and other special needs, as well as wellness interventions (

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