Peter Asaro Vs. the Killer Robots

"When he was in fourth grade, Peter Asaro ’94 got the assignment of making a Valentine’s Day mailbox. But unlike most 9-year-olds, he didn’t dig around his mother’s closet for a shoebox. Instead, he cannibalized circuit boards, a clock-radio speaker and a remote-controlled tank to build a robotic mailbox that visited his classmates’ desks.

The story is a harbinger of what was to become a defining interest in Asaro’s life: how technology and people interact and influence one another.

Asaro is a philosopher of science, technology and media. He is also a talented practitioner of technology, doing innovative research in the areas of virtual reality, human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robot vision at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. For Wolfram Research, he was involved in the design of the natural language interface for Wolfram|Alpha, which is also used by Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Bing to answer math queries.

His multiple talents made him a good fit at Illinois Wesleyan, where he double majored in philosophy and computer science.

Asaro traces his interests in those disciplines to a question raised by one of his IWU philosophy professors more than 20 years ago: Can machines think?

“I’ve never really got off that question,” he says. “It started me on this path.”

He again combined computer science and philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, earning master’s degrees in both before completing his Ph.D. in the history, philosophy and sociology of science.

Asaro is now a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology and continues his role as an assistant professor at the New School in New York City, where he served as director of the School of Media Studies’ graduate program. Widely published in international peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes, he is at work on a book that looks at how advanced robotics and social and ethical issues intersect."