Dr. Cynthia Breazeal
Occupation: Associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT Media Lab; founder and director of the Media Lab’s Personal Robots Group
You’ve talked about the potential for robots in people’s homes -- helping people meet goals, being part of children’s games. What’s the most exciting aspect of working with robots? Humans are profoundly social, and the robots [developed by the Personal Robots Group] seem to be able to engage people along social and interpersonal dimensions. That opens up new applications for robots in the home, health care, and education that we hadn’t thought about until pretty recently.
You met with Steven Spielberg back while he was making A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. They contacted me after the movie was filmed but when they were starting the promotion aspect. They wanted a scientist who could speak to the scientific themes in the movie. I did a lot of the press junkets where people were asking about things in the movie and how they pertain to what robots can do today and what the implications are for the future. I also met [late special-effects artist] Stan Winston. Leonardo was our first robot in collaboration with Winston’s studio.
Do you consider style important? I think style is important in a lot of aspects of what I do. Even when you talk about robots that interact with people -- if people are going to want to interact with them, they have to appeal to people, they have to engage people’s emotions. I attribute that engagement, that appeal, to the style of the robot, to everything observable about its behavior. It’s not just about the technology.
What about your style? I have a certain style that has to fit in with the fact that not only am I a professor at MIT, but I’m also a mom of three little boys. I’m on the cutting edge of technology, so I really like clothes that have a modern spin to them. I appreciate clothes that are really comfortable and functional, because they need to be. [laughs] Having things that are designed or architected so that they just work in an elegant way -- that’s a sensibility I apply to the style of my work as well as to the way I think about clothes and what’s authentic to me.
Do you have a favorite piece? I have this particular dress that I call the “power princess” dress. [laughs] It’s kind of this beautiful, classic Grace Kelly dress crossed with Trinity from The Matrix.It’s got this edgy pattern, so it’s got a bit of bite to it. If I’m going to give a presentation to a high-powered audience, that’s my go-to dress.