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August 29th, 2012

Biorobotics expert Long to give lecture at Vassar

Vassar biologist and cognitive scientist John Long will discuss his acclaimed new book “Darwin’s Devices” on September 28, 2012 during a special lecture in Olmsted Hall.
POUGHKEEPSIE - Vassar College’s biorobotics expert John Long has gained wide praise for his book “Darwin’s Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us About the History of Life and the Future of Technology”, from such prominent publications as Science, Scientific American, Nature, and Popular Science, as well as from Marketplace public radio, MSNBC, and the Discovery Channel. “Darwin’s Devices” explores Long’s innovative use of animal-inspired robots to conduct evolutionary research, which he will discuss in a free public lecture on Friday, September 28th at noon in Olmsted Hall room 300, as part of the Vassar College Center for Collaborative Approaches author series.

Long explains that the challenge of studying evolution is that the history of life is buried in the past. But he has found a way to overcome this problem: he creates robots that look and behave like extinct animals, subjects them to evolutionary pressures, lets them compete for mates and resources, and mutates their software-driven ‘genes.’
In Darwin’s Devices, Long tells the story of these evolving biorobots, how they came to be, and what they can teach us about the biology of living and extinct species.

Long’s robots replicate aspects of creatures that disappeared from the Earth long ago, and demonstrate in real time what happens when they respond to unexpected environmental challenges. For example by designing biomechanically correct models of backbone that function as part of an autonomous robot, he gains insights on how and why backbones evolved in the first vertebrates. Perhaps the most impressive feature of these robots is their ability to illustrate the power of evolution autonomously, without human input.

John Long chairs the Vassar College biology department, holds a joint appointment in Cognitive Science, and is co-director of the Vassar Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory he helped found. Well before publishing “Darwin’s Devices”, Long’s research with his “Madeleine” and “Taro” robots had gained press coverage from the New York Times, Associated Press and other outlets.

Vassar College strives to make its events, performances, and facilities accessible to all. Individuals with disabilities requiring special accommodations must contact the Office of Campus Activities at least 48 hours in advance of an event, Mondays-Fridays, at (845) 437-5370.
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