In this episode of ACM ByteCast, Rashmi Mohan hosts 2021-2022 ACM Athena Lecturer Ayanna Howard, Dean of the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University and founder and President of the Board of Directors of Zyrobotics. Previously she was chair of the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing, where she founded and led the Human-Automation Systems Lab (HumAnS). Before that, she worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). She is a Fellow of AAAI and IEEE. Among her many honors, Howard received the Computer Research Association’s A. Nico Habermann Award and the Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award. Forbes named her to its America's Top 50 Women in Tech list.
In the interview Ayanna looks back on her early love of robotics, inspired by science fiction, teaching herself how to program, and working a high school job at the California Institute of Technology. She shares some of her favorite research projects at JPL, where she designed expert systems, and describes the transition from government/industrial work to academia. She also talks about AI challenges relating to training models and large-scale deployment of lab-tested algorithms—offering warnings for technologists—as well as some potential solutions from her research. Rashmi and Ayanna also touch on her company, Zyrobotics, which develops mobile therapy and educational products for children with special needs, and her book, Sex, Race, and Robots: How to Be Human in the Age of AI.