Date March 14, 2019
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Michael Littman to deliver Presidential Faculty Award lecture

Littman, a computer scientist, will discuss efforts to make computers, robots and other devices easily usable by all.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Michael Littman, a professor in Brown’s Department of Computer Science, will deliver a Presidential Faculty Award lecture at the University on Tuesday, March 19. His talk, titled “Telling Machines What To Do,” will describe work by Littman and other to help human users to interface with computers, robots and other devices.

Littman, who joined the Brown faculty in 2012, focuses much of his research on artificial intelligence, machine learning and human-computer interaction. He is a co-leader of Brown’s Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative, which explores robotics as a means addressing important societal issues. Among the group’s research projects is a robotic pet enhanced by artificial intelligence to assist seniors.

In his Presidential Faculty Award lecture, Littman will discuss software technologies aimed at making computers, robots and other AI-enabled devices easily usable for everyone, not just the most tech-savvy among us.

“Computers are very powerful, so we have to think hard about how to best instruct them,” Littman said. “Our goal is to make it possible for people with a wide variety of backgrounds to convey their wishes to computers and robots to help unlock the power of automation for everyone.”

Littman’s work at Brown includes systems that help robots to understand natural language, as well as algorithms that enable people to train robots by physically demonstrating how tasks are performed. He and his students have also explored a simple method of commanding devices for smart homes using the popular web app If-This-Then-That.

"Computers are perhaps as powerful at information processing at anything that could exist,” Littman said. “I want to find ways to help individuals harness that power to help them meet their goals."

The Presidential Faculty Award Lecture takes place on Tuesday, March 19, at 4:30 p.m. in the John Carter Brown Library. The event is free and open to the public.

About the Series

The Presidential Faculty Award was established in 2013 by Brown University President Christina Paxson to recognize members of the faculty who are conducting especially important and innovative scholarship and to create an opportunity for recipients to present their work to colleagues in other disciplines. Two recipients are selected for the academic year, one for each semester. Previous recipients include C.D. Wright, Charles Larmore, David Berson, Nitsan Chorev, David Kertzer, Jill Pipher, Jesse Shapiro, Bonnie Honig, Anthony Bogues and Amanda Lynch.

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