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Ada Lovelace Distinguished Lecture Series

  • Prof. Carme Torras, Institut de Robòtica i Informàtica Industrial (CSIC-UPC), Barcelona (Spain)
10 november 2017
Distinguished Lecture followed by drinks
Science Campus
Einsteinweg 55
2333 CC Leiden
Lecture room 2

The Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) has a Distinguished Lecture Series. You are cordially invited to attend the second Ada Lovelace lecture:

Social Robots: Research Challenges and Ethical Issues

Carme Torras, Institut de Robòtica i Informàtica Industrial (CSIC-UPC), Barcelona (Spain)

Robotics is a highly interdisciplinary field that originated in the fifties as a joint effort of mechanical, electrical, and control engineers. The motion sequences of the first industrial robots were recorded through guidance using a teach pendant. Soon robot manipulators in production lines became more versatile with the introduction of robot programming languages, and computer science took a leading role in the enhancement of robots with perception, planning and learning capabilities.

By today, robots are no longer confined to factories, they are progressively spreading to urban, social, and assistive domains. In the coming years we will see robots attending elderly and disabled people, performing household tasks, acting as support teachers, assistants in shopping malls, receptionists, guides at trade-fairs and museums, and even as nannies and playmates. These new robots must be able to interact with people and assist users in a friendly, effective, and secure way. How these qualities translate into the traits of a good assistant vary largely not only among cultures, but also among individuals. As a curiosity, some robot designers have searched inspiration in the virtues attributed to the lady's companion of Ada Lovelace’s Victorian era.

These so-called social robots pose new, very attractive research challenges. They must be easy to command by non-expert users, intrinsically safe to people, able to manipulate not only rigid but also deformable objects, and highly adaptable to non-predefined and dynamic environments. A quick overview of research on these topics will be provided.

Social robots raise also fundamental ethical issues, many practical ones stemming from autonomous robot decision-making conflicting with human freedom and dignity. A longer-term issue is how our increasing interaction with robots will affect individual identity, society, and the future of humankind. What human capabilities will be enhanced, which will be extinguished and which new ones will appear? Philosophy, psychology and law are shedding principled light on these issues, while arts and science-fiction freely speculate about the role the human being and the machine may play in this “pas à deux” in which we are irremissibly engaged. We expect to trigger a stimulating interchange of views with the audience at the end of the talk.

About Prof. Carme Torras

Carme Torras is Research Professor at the Spanish Scientific Research Council (CSIC), and Head of the Perception and Manipulation group at the Robotics Institute in Barcelona. She holds M.Sc. degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Barcelona and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, respectively, and a Ph.D. degree in Computer Science from the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC). Prof. Torras has published five books and about three hundred papers in the areas of robot kinematics, computer vision, geometric reasoning, machine learning, and manipulation planning. She has led 12 European projects and supervised 18 PhD theses on these topics, and she is currently Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Robotics. She was Associate Vice-President for Publications of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS), and has been elected to serve in the Administrative Committee of IEEE RAS in the period 2016-2018.

Prof. Torras has participated in many activities to promote Ethics in Robotics: she has delivered talks at local, national and international venues (e.g., at ICRA-13’s forum “Robotics meets the Humanities”), she has written essays on science fiction and ethics, and she is currently developing some pedagogical materials to teach Roboethics based on her novel The Sentimental Mutation. Prof. Torras was awarded the Narcís Monturiol Medal of the Generalitat de Catalunya in 2000, and became EurAI Fellow in 2007, member of Academia Europaea in 2010, and Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona in 2013. She has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant with a project entitled “Clothilde - Cloth manipulation learning from demonstrations” to start in late 2017.


Registration for this event is free of charge, however, we kindly ask you to register, so we can ensure a sufficiently large auditorium and calibrate food and drinks for the reception after the lecture.

Ada Lovelace Distinguished Lectures

The Ada Lovelace Distinguished Lecture Series brings outstanding computer scientists from around the world to Leiden University. The lecturers will share exciting ideas and results from the forefront of computer science. Apart from computer scientists, alumni and students of computer science, anyone else with a serious interest in the field is invited to the Ada Lovelace Lectures.

Getting there

The Gorlaeus Laboratory, Einsteinweg 55, is easily reachable by public transport. From the Leiden Central Railwaystation, take bus no. 43  and get out at 'Universiteitsterrein'. Or take bus 30 (direction Katwijk) and get out at 'Bio Science Park'.

Future lectures

We expect to organise Ada Lovelace Lectures around two times a year. They will be announced via a new e-mail list LIACS Talks, along with other research talks. We encourage you to subscribe to this list.

Subscribe to the LIACS Talks list by sending an email to liacs-talks-subscribe@lists.liacs.nl, with the word 'Subscribe' in the subject field.

Previous Ada Lovelace Lectures