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Stéphane Magnenat

I am a researcher in educational robotics, embodied artificial intelligence, interaction design and video games at Disney Research Zürich.

I admire the complexity of the universe and enjoy the knowledge that we have acquired and structured as a species. I am fascinated by how plants, animals and humans, both individually and at the group level, adapt to and shape their environment. Decades of research in biology, artificial intelligence and robotics have uncovered some of the mechanisms underlying these capabilities in specific contexts. Yet, as demonstrated by the very limited flexibility of existing robots and video game agents, how to extend these to new situations is an open research question. Therefore, my long-term research goal is to find task-independent mechanisms of autonomy and adaptation.

I pursue this goal by taking an experimental approach; after having worked on robotics models of living systems and robots shaping their environments, my recent research has focused on developing methods to allow humans to help robots and intelligent agents to become autonomous. Indeed, I believe that by studying how autonomy can be imparted on agents in various situations, we can understand its fundamental qualities. I have approached this target from two complementary directions. The first aims at enabling beginners – including young children – to program robots graphically. Programming a robot requires to conceptualise and infuse autonomy into an initially inert agent, and studying that gives insights into the representation of autonomous behaviours, but also the nature of human learning. The second direction aims at devising models to teach behaviours to robots. It explores how an agent can infer a meaningful autonomous behaviour from a set of exemplar demonstrations by a human, and so directly studies the representation of that behaviour. These two research orientations are dual and both are centred around the learning process: the human learns from interacting with the robot in the first and the robot learns from the guidance of the human in the second. Because they approach the same fundamental questions of generalization, abstraction, symbol creation, etc. they form a unique opportunity to study the fundamental building blocks of an autonomous and adaptive behaviour. Moreover, being applied to real-world problems, they provide innovative solutions for education and agents programming. For instance, the work on graphical programming is deployed on the Thymio robot, of which 5k units have been sold.

I fortuitously met people in my life who have enriched my horizon. Thanks to them, there are a music and a movie sections on this site.

Where to join me

Work Private
Disney Research Zürich
Stampfenbachstrasse 48
8006 Zürich
Please email me if you have to send me anything or if you want to know my instant messager addresses.
phone number soon my GPG public key
© 2008–2014 Stéphane Magnenat
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