American Indian Studies Program

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"Marvelous Fabrications": Interrogating Robots from the Middle Ages to the Present

Event Type
Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities
Third Floor Lecture Hall, Levis Faculty Center (919 West Illinois Street, Urbana, IL)
Mar 28, 2018   7:30 pm  
Originating Calendar
Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH)

Robot demonstrations by Ben Grosser (Art + Design) and Amy LaViers (Mechanical Science and Engineering), followed by a response by Elly R. Truitt (History, Bryn Mawr College) and a discussion panel about the issues surrounding the concept and practice of robots and their histories


Ben Grosser creates interactive experiences, machines, and systems that examine the cultural, social, and political implications of software. Recent exhibition venues include Arebyte Gallery in London, Museu das Comunicações in Lisbon, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, and Galerie Charlot in Paris. His works have been featured in Wired, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Hyperallergic, Neural, El País, Le Monde, and Der Spiegel. Grosser’s recognitions include First Prize in VIDA 16, and the Expanded Media Award for Network Culture from Stuttgarter Filmwinter. His writings about the cultural effects of technology have been published in journals such as Computational Culture, and Big Data and Society. Grosser is an assistant professor of new media at the School of Art + Design, co-founder of the Critical Technology Studies Lab at NCSA, and an affiliate with the Informatics Institute and Unit for Criticism.


Amy LaViers is an assistant professor in Mechanical Science and Engineering Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and director of the Robotics, Automation, and Dance (RAD) Lab where she develops robotic algorithms inspired by movement and dance theory. She has worked in the area of advanced manufacturing, through an industry-university consortium, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM), defense, and healthcare, and forged interdisciplinary ties with the UVA and UIUC Dance Programs and the Laban/Bartenieff Institute for Movement Studies, where she is pursuing a Certification in Movement Analysis (CMA). She is the recipient of a 2015 DARPA Young Faculty Award (YFA) and a 2017 YFA Director’s Fellowship. She is the co-founder of AE Machines, a startup company that makes easy-to-use software for flexible automation cells. Prior to UIUC she held a position as an assistant professor for two years in systems and information engineering at the University of Virginia. She completed her Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech where she was the recipient of the ECE Graduate Teaching Excellence Award and a finalist for the CETL/BP Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award. Her dissertation included a live performance exploring the concepts of style she developed there. Her research began at Princeton University where she earned a certificate in dance and a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering. Her senior thesis, which quantitatively compared two styles of dance, earned top honors in the MAE department, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Lewis Center for the Arts.


Elly (E. R.) Truitt is Associate Professor of Medieval History at Bryn Mawr College. She has a background in medieval intellectual and cultural history and the history of science, and has published articles on the history of automata, early mechanical clocks, the history of astronomy, pharmacobotany, and medieval AI. She is the author of Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015; paperback 2016). Her research has been supported by the NSF, the Mellon Foundation, the Huntington Library, and the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science. She is currently at work on two short projects--on Chaucer's Treatise on the Astrolabe and on the curiously related histories of the codex and the mechanical clock--and a monograph about Roger Bacon, devices, and the importance of experience.

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