SFU professor Dr. Mo Chen appointed as a Canada CIFAR AI Chair

The appointment will extend Chens’ research on working safely with robots

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Photo courtesy of SFU News

Written by: Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate 

Dr. Mo Chen, an SFU computing science professor, is researching  algorithms that program robots to anticipate human reactions. He aims to increase the safe interaction between robots and humans so that robots can independently “respond to dangerous situations” and “co-exist with humans.” 

In an interview with The Peak, Chen described plans to further his research. His past work at SFU’s multi-agent robotic systems (MARS) lab included training robots to safely maneuver around obstacles. 

Chen acknowledged that despite the increased reliance on robots, it is “still limited by the lack of safety.” He added that future research needs to identify the “fine balance between being safe enough and being too safe” to allow robots to interact with humans. Chen explained that safe interaction between humans and robots opens the door to many opportunities, such as self-driving shopping carts and robots directing shopping mall customers. 

“When we think about computer programs, AI, or maybe the current robotics, we think of the robots responding to the environment as they sense it, but I think they need to do more. They need to make decisions based on how they think their actions will cause reactions.” 

The Canadian government invested $125 million into CIFAR’s Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. The Canada CIFAR Chairs program has access to $86.5 million to fund research on AI. As a CIFAR  AI Chair, Chen receives more  funding for his research. 

As the principal investigator of SFU’s MARS lab, Chen also supervises student research on “principled robotic decision making.” He recommends that computing science students take special topics classes before taking Computing Science 415/416, which offer opportunities for lab work. 

He also encourages students to apply for undergraduate student research awards (USRA) to fund their research. 

When asked about his research at the SFU MARS lab, Dr. Chen stated “Different people trust robots more or less [ . . . ] Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I do want to say that we should all be try to be more educated in this field, so that whether we trust robots or whether we’re skeptical, we do so in an informed way.”

In addition to Chen’s new position as a Canada CIFAR AI Chair, he is also a Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) Fellow and NSERC Canadian Robotics Network (NCRN) Distal Fellow. Chen has won numerous awards, which include the UC Berkeley EECS Eli Jury Award and UC Berkeley EECS Demetri Angelakos Memorial Achievement Award.