Humans and Machines

Humans and Machines
Due to the breadth of certain topics, three program tracks will offer conversations across both Fest 1 and Fest 2. Additionally, focused attention will be given to four different subjects during each half of the Festival. Spotlight: Health kicks off the week as a focused, two-and-a-half day forum.
Humans and Machines
Humans and Machines
So much in our daily lives is managed by machines that we barely take notice — until they break. As extensions of our fingers, smart phones already manage our communications, information, and entertainment, and can, if we employ them to do so, manage our homes, travel, and cooking devices. What is new to our daily routine, however, is the remarkable and growing role that new machines (let's call them "robots," for now) will play. Ten years from now, what will we experience? Efficiency and excitement, or hairs raised on the back our necks?
We may not be keenly aware, but robotics play a real role in our lives already. They are employed in defense, space exploration, manufacturing and health care, in ways that save money and lives. However, robots will soon hit the mainstream and radically shift the way we function in the world. Driverless cars will populate streets; surgeries will be perfected by automated "hands"; even comedian robots might feed us better jokes. Imagine the machine that fights fires for a living or carefully retrieves objects (or friends) from dangerous situations (a sinking ship, a car wreck) or replaces lost limbs with the accuracy of a human doctor — perhaps even better. We know that we already lose chess matches to super computers, and robots deliver us food and mix cocktails in a restaurant. But what about heading out to archeological digs, challenging criminals on the spot, or flying over our heads to take pictures of us?
Across design, construction, and research, the field of robotics is fascinating, opening our eyes to efficiencies and inventiveness that are remarkably creative. Throughout these discussions we will bring the engineers, inventors, and designers to share their visions, stories, and mechanical colleagues. But we will also confront the dilemmas posed by our new machine population. Will human labor be replaced by machine labor? Will machines do it better, and who bears the costs of mistakes made by machines? Might robots get out of control? And who guides their moral compass?
2014