Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Boston Dynamics' SpotMini dazzled the crowd with a variety of gaits and balancing tricks. No messy cleanup, either.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Google's Jeremy Wertheimer set the stage with some observations about A.I. and robotics over the years.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Helen Greiner of CyPhy Works chatted with attendees and students. Drone delivery, anyone?

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

The audience got involved with questions early and often. Au contraire, mon frere!

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Lola's Bryan Healey made a point about A.I. in the real world. With (left to right) Joshua Feast, Slater Victoroff, and Maia Heymann.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

This was Xconomy's third annual Robo Madness conference at Google. Love the venue.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Marc Raibert of Boston Dynamics showed some of his team's latest robot experiments.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Glasswing Ventures' Rudina Seseri talks about investing in A.I. startups, with (left to right) Semyon Dukach, Brendan Kohler, and Krishna Gupta.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Attendees seemed to appreciate the mix of live demos and fast-moving discussions.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Stephen Wolfram said humans will need to communicate what they want to A.I. systems---and that can never be automated.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

The networking buzz picked up during the reception. One of these people is actually a robot.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Soft Robotics' Carl Vause (left) and Material Impact's Carmichael Roberts (right) showed me a gripper robot for food and Furby handling.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

The demo areas were hopping all day long.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

MassRobotics' Tom Ryden (far right) talked self-driving vehicles with (left to right) Dick Waters, Anatoly Gorshechnikov, and Eric Daimler.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

There was plenty of time for networking all afternoon. Is that a Brass Rat I see?

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Interacting with other people was almost as fun as with the robots.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

John Rizzi from RISE talked about robots that can help solve environmental problems. His nonprofit is starting with an undersea lionfish hunter to control an invasive species.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

The non-robotic food platters were quite impressive.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

MassRobotics' Joyce Sidopoulos (right) chatted with attendees and participants.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

A winning team from FIRST Robotics shows their hardware to Stephen Wolfram.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

We hope many new connections were made, and old ones strengthened.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Sasha Hoffman of Piaggio Fast Forward demoed Gita, a mobile carrier robot.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Moderator Tom Ryden (center) chatted with executives from Neurala during the break.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

So many demos, so little time. Well, there's always next year.

Photo by Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

Robo Madness 2017: A.I. Gets Real

See you all next time! Especially you, SpotMini.

Photo by Martina Toponarski

Third time’s a charm… and our third annual Robo Madness conference in Boston had plenty of that. (So did the first two.) From live robot demos to provocative discussions on the opportunities and challenges in artificial intelligence, our speakers really delivered on this year’s theme: A.I. Gets Real.

Huge thanks to our host, Google, whose venue and support seem to get stronger every year. Special thanks to our event sponsors, who made it all possible: GE, Harmonic Drive, iRobot, Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories, Cirtronics, and TriNet. And, of course, thanks to our speakers, attendees, and demo organizers, who are what the event is really about.

Also, a big shout-out to Keith Spiro Photography for the pictures above.

Now, on to a few takeaways from the day:

1. Self-driving vehicles are at peak hype. There are huge opportunities at stake, but some of the biggest problems have yet to be solved: data sharing, liability, urban infrastructure, accounting for human behavior. Not to mention the technology needs to improve. On the plus side, the money flowing into the sector will benefit robotics as a whole. And incremental advances will continue to boost vehicle safety.

2. Data ownership is the key issue in machine learning. We’ve heard this before, but big companies’ access to data—see Google, Amazon, Facebook, Uber, Tesla—gives them a huge leg up in A.I. applications. There’s not much new under the sun in terms of algorithms, so startups’ opportunities are largely determined by their datasets and team expertise.

3. Humans will need to communicate their goals to A.I. systems. In a world where machines can do more and more, people need to lay out guidelines for their behavior. This is especially important given that “deep learning” systems are getting harder for humans to understand and predict. Which leads to…

4. We’d better think about jobs and ethics now. Robotics companies would rather address inefficiencies and labor shortages in fields like logistics, manufacturing, and delivery. But it seems likely that some (and perhaps many) human jobs will eventually become automated. How will business and policy leaders empower the human side of this evolving relationship? Stay tuned.

Xconomy’s Jeff Engel contributed to this report.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com.