Professor of Media Arts and Sciences/Director, Fluid Interfaces Group, MIT Media Lab
Cyborgs. Humanoid machines. Artificial Intelligence (AI). Pop culture fiction has provided a frightening narrative of these futuristic technologies. AI, once a prospect of the distant future, has become part of our everyday lives. But according to Pattie Maes, AI pioneer and MIT professor, the future of humanity is far from being threatened by these new technologies; it’s brighter because of them. Officially, the cyborgs are among us: they’re our friends, our families, our colleagues – and you.
A leading authority on human-computer interaction and AI, Maes and her MIT team have developed new devices that help us perform better – from learning a second language and making smarter decisions, to everyday repairs and manual chores. Such developments present major opportunities as well as challenges for humanity and the businesses we build. Employing both AI and person-to-person interaction, Maes’ technology improves our cognitive and physiological capabilities, increases efficiency, and predicts and models human behavior. Now, learning happens in real time. People remain engaged in the physical world. Barriers for access to information are broken. And machines, loaded with sensors, have an increased awareness of the environments we put them in. The opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses are profound.
Maes has been recognized for her groundbreaking work on AI and human-computer interaction by Fast Company, Newsweek, Time Digital and the World Economic Forum. The latter honored her with the title “Global Leader for Tomorrow,” reflecting her pioneering research on how humans have become humanoid machines through the near-constant use of computers and smart-phones. As seen in her highly viewed 2009 TED Talk, Maes focuses on the disconnect between our devices and the context of our physical surroundings and our individual interests and goals. The result: Maes contends that we cannot reject our “cyborg selves,” as the technology is here to stay. We must instead center on integrating these revolutionary accessories with our own bodies and minds, so that we can act as whole beings rather than as distracted smartphone addicts.
Maes, who holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a doctorate in AI from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium, runs the Fluid Interfaces research group at the MIT Media Lab, which aims to radically reinvent the relationship of human and machine.