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Solving the world’s problems with the help of human-like robots November 21, 2018

Humans and robots living harmoniously side-by-side sounds like something from a utopian science fiction novel. But for Geordie Rose, he is realising this dream as founder and CEO of Santuary.ai.

Rose, a McMaster engineering physics alumnus and serial entrepreneur, was the guest speaker at the 33rd annual J.W. Hodgins Engineering Memorial Lecture on November 19.

Rose founded his first enterprise, D-wave, the world’s first quantum computing company as well as Kindred, the world’s first robotics company to use reinforcement learning in a production environment. Now, at Sanctuary.ai, he is working with a team of innovators to build a synthetic human, or “synth” – a machine that can mimic a human in form and function.

“Synths will be able to understand the world the way we do, have the same emotional spectrum, have the same feelings of self,” explained Rose to a room of over 200 attendees. “We can’t do it yet but as a north star, it guides the work I do.”

So why build robots that look like us? Rose believes we should create machines that share our values and have the same rights as humans. He even aspires to establish a sanctuary city in Vancouver where synths would live and work alongside humans.

“If you can build a machine that can think, you’ve built a superpower to help you solve the world’s problems. Intelligence is like a meta computer. Not just a computer for answering questions, it’s a machine for asking questions.”

Rose’s career path into AI and robotics began at McMaster where he developed a keen interest in physics under the guidance of Physics Professor and Canada Research Chair in Quantum Materials Theory, Catherine Kallin. 

“There’s something about the undergraduate years that stick with you as a time for transformation and change so I have very fond memories of this place.”

After spending his summers doing research with Kallin, she helped him get into the University of British Columbia where he received his PhD in theoretical physics.

Rose credits the many valuable relationships he has built over the years at McMaster and beyond for his successes. He also encourages current students to pursue their passions in life, just like he did.   

“Create value in the world by doing the things you love. You don’t need permission. Just do it.”