At a Glance

Expert discussions on timely topics.
Hear it here, as it happens.

Headliners, the University of Minnesota's popular current events series, is your chance to meet, once a month, with University and community experts as they share firsthand knowledge of today's newsworthy topics. From medical breakthroughs and culture clashes to social trends and foreign affairs, you'll discuss what's making the headlines.

Join us, for the 2014–15 season, from October through May (no event in January) to dive into timely topics and ask questions in a moderated Q&A. 

Headliner tickets are nonrefundable.

Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos

The Future of Robots and Sensors

Who: Dr. Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos, Distinguished McKnight Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering; Director, Center for Distributed Robotics; Director, Security in Transportation Technology Research and Applications, University of Minnesota

When: Thursday, April 2, 7 p.m.

Where: Continuing Education and Conference Center, St. Paul campus, University of Minnesota

Tickets: $15


Today, almost everyone, it seems, is interested in, or at least intrigued by, robots. Most, we have come to know through literature, television, and film. There are kindly, protective robots, such as the one on Lost in Space (“Danger, Will Robinson!”), and doting, caster-wheeled robots like Rosie from The Jetsons. Star Wars gives us the joy of R2-D2’s droid-infused gibberish, and in turn, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the eeriness of Kubrick’s celluloid interpretation of red-eyed, AI antagonist, Hal 9000.

But those are more recent, pop-culture examples. It turns out, human fascination with robots can be traced as far back as 4th-century B.C.E., China, and a peculiar description found in the Liezi that describes an artificial humanoid who is capable of mimicking human operations.

So what accounts for this long-standing fascination? And as robots become more and more a part of our daily lives, we ask: what are they like and what are their uses?

Join us April 2, when Dr. Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos, Distinguished McKnight Professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, will lead an armchair tour of how robotics is changing the landscape of manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, entertainment, education, and security and search-and-rescue systems, worldwide.

Papanikolopoulos, who also directs the University’s Security in Transportation Technology Research and Applications, and the Center for Distributed Robotics, will discuss how the use of robots is becoming ubiquitous (Google purchases a new robotics company nearly every month; and Amazon relies heavily on the Kiva robotic system for the company’s day-to-day logistics), and how their forms are moving away from the humanoid systems depicted in movies, and toward devices that can sense their surroundings and respond accordingly.

Dr. Papanikolopoulos will also discuss new developments in the area of sensors, in particular, sensors used for mental health assessments, and algorithms that assist with early diagnoses of children who are at risk of developing behavioral disorders.

Dr. Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos is a Distinguished McKnight Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, where he is also Director of the Center for Distributed Robotics and Security in Transportation Technology Research and Applications. His research interests and projects include robotics, computer vision, control systems, and sensors for transportation applications such as vision-based sensing and classification of vehicles, and the recognition of human activity patterns in public areas and while driving. Dr. Papanikolopoulos is the recipient of numerous fellowships, grants, and awards, including the Best Video Award from the International Conference on Robotics and Automation; the Richard P. Braun Distinguished Service Award for his work in transportation; and the Faculty Creativity Award from the University of Minnesota. In 2007, he was conferred with the distinction Fellow, by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which recognizes the extraordinary accomplishments of members whose work is dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.

Charles Baxter

Contemporary Fiction and the Modern Security State

May 7
Charles Baxter, Edelstein-Keller Professor in Creative Writing, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota

Please join us for this special edition of Headliners—the last of the 2014−2015 season—when award-winning author Charles Baxter will discuss dysfunctional narratives: what they are and why we should we care about them. Professor Baxter will draw a distinction between functional narratives, in which a person is clearly responsible for an action and its consequences, and dysfunctional narratives, in which no one is taking responsibility for bad outcomes.

He writes, “Those of us who teach writing, particularly fiction writing, have noticed the rise of dysfunctional narratives generated by our students, and these narratives, in turn, seem to be mirrored by the rise in public policy discussions of similar narratives marked by the passive voice construction ‘Mistakes were made,’ the common form of disclaiming all responsibility, in regard to Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, and the invasion of Iraq.”

Professor Baxter will also propose a new category: toxic narratives, which refer to actions that are so shameful that no one in public life wants to acknowledge them. These questions have everything to do with the kinds of novels and movies that are now reaching the public, and with the way the modern security state generates its own narratives about what it is doing.

Charles Baxter is the author of numerous books, most recently There’s Something I Want You to Do: Stories, which was released by Pantheon earlier this year. Other titles, all published by Pantheon, include Gryphon: New and Selected Stories (2010), The Soul Thief (2008), and Saul and Patsy (2003). His third novel, The Feast of Love (Pantheon/Vintage), was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2000 and made into a film starring Morgan Freeman.

In addition to novels and short stories, Baxter has published essays on fiction collected in The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot (Graywolf Press, 2007) and Burning Down the House (Graywolf Press, 1997), and edited/co-edited several books of essays, including A William Maxwell Portrait (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), Bringing the Devil to His Knees (The University of Michigan Press, 2001), and The Business of Memory (Graywolf Press, 1999). His edited collection of the stories of Sherwood Anderson was published by the Library of America in 2012.

Baxter’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, and Harper’s, among other periodicals. His fiction has been translated into many languages, and received further distinction by being anthologized, eight times, in Best American Short Stories, and eleven times in The Pushcart Prize Anthology. Among his many awards are the Award of Merit in the Short Story and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the prestigious Rea Award in the Short Story in 2012.

A Minneapolis native, Baxter received his Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and has taught at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan, Stanford University, and the University of Iowa. He is currently the Edelstein-Keller Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota.

This event takes place at the Continuing Education and Conference Center on the St. Paul campus, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 7. Tickets are $15.

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