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Prominent Viterbi Emeritus Keynotes Systems-of-Systems Conference

George Bekey drew on his vast experience in a wide range of engineering disciplines in his speech at the recent IEEE SOSE conference in Monterey, California
Eric Mankin
June 17, 2008 — George Bekey, emeritus professor of CS, EE and BME, delivered the keynote lecture at the 2008 IEEE Conference on Systems-of-Systems Engineering. 

The title of his lecture was "Intelligent Systems of Humans, Agents and Robots as Examples of Systems-of-Systems."  Bekey drew on his extensive background in robotics and human-robot interaction, as well as recent work by Viterbi School Computer Science Department Professor Milind Tambe.
Bekey offered his perspective on the emergent discipline of SoSE, including thoughts on robotic ethics.

The SoSE conference, only the third in an annual series concerning work in the emerging discipline, took place June 2-4.

Bekey provided a summary of his talk.

"In recent years we have seen the development of a new class of systems, involving the interaction of large numbers of software agents, robots and humans. Such systems may involve sensor networks, multiple heterogeneous robots along with humans.  The design of such systems must take into account the different capabilities of each subgroup and allow for local autonomy while providing for communication and cooperation."

"These are truly systems of systems. Each robot is a complex system in its own right, consisting of sensors, actuators, structure and computers. Equally important in the SoS are networks of software agents, intelligent entities not embodied in hardware. Current systems of this type may involve hundreds or thousands of entities.

"Analysis of such systems (of systems) involves a blend of tools from artificial intelligence, dynamical system theory, and network analysis, among others.  In this presentation we discuss some examples of such systems from various extremes, e.g., systems with large numbers of software agents and a few robots, as contrasted with system containing robot 'swarms' and few if any software agents. The typical SoS issues of system autonomy, interaction and adaptation will be discussed, along with the question of emergent behaviors."

Bekey concluded with an examination of the issues of robot ethics and their implication in the design and implementation of systems of systems.

Bekey is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. His research interests include autonomous robotic systems, multi-robot cooperation and human-robot interaction.   Dr. Bekey is a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).  He is the Founding Editor of the journal Autonomous Robots, and of the IEEE Transactions on Robotics.  During 1996 and 1997 he served as President of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society.

MIT Press published "Autonomous Robots: from biological inspiration to implementation and control"  in 2005.  Bekey officially retired in 2003, but continues to be active on a part-time basis both at USC and at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, where he is a Research Scholar and a consultant to the College of Engineering.  His current research concerns robot ethics and the development of altruistic robots.  He is also affiliated with a medical devices startup company in San Luis Obispo.

System-of-Systems Engineering includes such subjects as human- machine systems and emerging cybernetics. Papers related to this theme are especially solicited, including theories, methodologies, and applications of System of Systems in science, technology, industry, and education according to conferenece organizers.