Ken Goldberg arrived at Carnegie Mellon during the portentous year of 1984, but instead of the dystopian society envisioned by George Orwell, he found a campus full of people exploring ways that technology would change lives for the better.
It was an exciting, stimulating environment for Goldberg, who always loved technology; his father, a metallurgist, had designed an automated chrome-plating system for the factory where he worked. "I loved to play with model rockets and cars and go-karts, and my dad taught me about binary numbers, stepper motors, things like that," he says.
At SCS, Goldberg studied under Matt Mason, now director of the Robotics Institute, as Mason refined his theories on how the laws of physics could be channeled to make robots more effective. "Matt showed how robots could make use of their environments, which allowed them to do remarkable tasks with minimal sensing," Goldberg says. "It was a profound insight."
Goldberg's Ph.D. dissertation was on mathematical models for feeding parts to factory automation systems, but when everyone else left the lab for the day, he stayed behind, programming robots to create abstract paintings. Though many people assumed that robots would turn out dozens of identical paintings, Goldberg wanted to demonstrate how imperfections in paints, brushes, and other parts of the physical world introduced variations. His solo exhibition in 1990 at Forbes Gallery provoked heady discussions on the nature of art and originality.
After leaving Carnegie Mellon, Goldberg took a faculty position at the University of Southern California, where he worked with students to create Telegarden, an award-winning art installation that for nine years allowed Internet visitors to remotely control an industrial robot that planted seeds and tended a real garden.
Now an IEEE fellow and professor of engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, Goldberg is known internationally for his research on automation and networked telerobotics.
And he's still combining art and technology; Goldberg is currently director of Berkeley's Center for New Media, which engages over 110 faculty members from 30 different departments. One of its newest projects, "Donation Dashboard," is a Web site that matches givers with customized portfolios of charities using statistical profiles and social-networking techniques. Details on Goldberg's research (and art) can be found at goldberg.berkeley.edu.
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