Anca Dragan

Field: Robotics and Human-Robot Interaction

Position & Organization: Assistant Professor, UC Berkeley

How did you get started in this field? I loved math and I got into computer science as a way to do more applied math. I found the Russell and Norvig AI book and the algorithms I read about really resonated with me, which is what got me into AI from CS.

What do you like about your work? I get to work on fundamental problems, that I think will be important not just in the coming few years, but over a long time to come.

What do you not like about your work? I don’t like that it can have unintended side-effects and can be misused. For instance, to the extent that my work enables better interaction it contributes to the future of autonomous driving. This is great because it can reduce injuries and deaths, it can perhaps give us back our commute times, but it can also encourage more car use, encourage us not going to the store but instead getting everything delivered, etc. We have to be careful about what society we are trying to build, and with progress in technology has to come progress in how we plan to use these tools for the good.

Do you have any advice for women who want to enter this field? My advice would be to find mentors. Mentors don’t have to be female, they just have to be good — they have to care, and guide you along the way.

What makes you hopeful for the future? I’m hopeful that progress in intelligence and AI tools can lead to freeing up more people to spend more time on education and creative pursuits — I think that would make for a wonderful future for us.

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Photo: Human-Machine Interaction / Anca Dragan / Copyright Noah Berger / 2016