SEAS Prof addresses fear of robots on 'The Colbert Report'

Dan Lee and Stephen Colbert Photo credit: Tommy Krakowiak

Dan Lee, associate professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science (front row, left) attempted to address funnyman Stephen Colbert's fear of robots on "The Colbert Report."

Robot-fearing funnyman Stephen Colbert featured Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science Associate Professor Dan Lee, an expert in robots and machine learning, on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” on Oct. 28.

Leading up to Colbert’s “Keep Fear Alive” march, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 30, the television show host has taped segments addressing each of his personal fears, which include robots and bears.
 
Lee is one of the nation’s leading researchers on robots and artificial learning. Drawing from the ways biological systems compute and learn, Lee’s research goal is to design machines that better understand what we want them to do. His research applies knowledge about biological information processing systems to building better artificial sensorimotor systems that can adapt and learn from experience.  
 
Lee is also the leader of Penn’s robot soccer team, the UPennalizers, who participate each year in the international RoboCup robot soccer competition. During the show taping in New York City on Oct. 27, Lee demonstrated the robots’ athletic abilities for Colbert.  
 
The comedian and Lee discussed Colbert’s fear of robots, why they scare the living daylights out of people and other robot-related myths and fallacies.  
 
“It was a very interesting experience. I showed them some of our robots at the GRASP [General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception] Lab, and tried to assuage Stephen Colbert's fears about robots,” Lee says. “Real robots are not as smart as the ones you see in the movies. So I don't think there's anything to worry about until we make some big breakthroughs in research.”
 
Lee joined the Penn faculty in 2001 and is the Evan C Thompson Endowed Term Chair for Excellence in Teaching. Currently, he researches and teaches in Penn Engineering’s Electrical and Systems Engineering Department and at the GRASP Lab.

To watch Lee on the show, visit “The Colbert Report” website and click on “Fear for All Pt. 1.”

Originally published on October 29, 2010