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Matthias Scheutz, Ph.D.

What He Brings

Two Ph.D.s and prior faculty positions in computer science and engineering, cognitive science, and philosophy of science. Currently he is working with other Tufts faculty to develop a joint Ph.D. program in cognitive science. "He challenges students to implement their ideas of what it takes to make robots smart, while asking them to reflect on the ethical and societal implications of technology," says Carla Brodley, professor and chair of computer science.

His Research Focus

Enabling robots to interact with people using natural language. “Rather than having to learn a complicated programming language,” he says, “you’ll just tell the robot what you want it to do.” This first requires a better understanding of how people use natural language to interact. “Conversations, sentence fragments, the kind of spontaneous speech we use with each other: how do we incorporate this language processing into artificial intelligence? It’s very easy for people, but hard for machines.

"We are moving toward a human-robot society. We already have lots of simple robots like robot vacuum cleaners, robot toys, and rescue robots, but this is only the beginning. For future more complex robots, the goal is to give them instructions in natural language—so your household robot will be able to prepare dinner for you when you come home at eight. This degree of naturalness won't be realized any time soon. But what we are learning now sheds light on cognitive processes in humans, on how people talk and interact and understand each other. And programming these mechanical devices helps us to better conceptualize the philosophical questions about how the mind might work."

Why Tufts

"It's small, and people are talking to each other. I was attracted by the prospect of building a graduate program in cognitive science that will bring together expertise in language, philosophy, psychology, biology, and engineering. There's great expertise in all these areas at Tufts and people are eager to work together, which is fantastic.

"It's very important for undergrads to become involved early on in research projects, to ask questions and then work on them. I encourage my students in computer science, If you think you have a way to get robots to recognize objects or navigate through the building, then go do it!"