Leonardo Art/Science Evening Rendezvous of October 14, 2015

Exploring the Frontiers of Knowledge and Imagination, Fostering Interdisciplinary Networking
UC Berkeley, October 14, 2015
Soda Hall (corner of Hearst and LeRoy), Room 310
NOTE: Use the WEST-entrance of SODA Hall entering from Etcheverry Plaza.
Chaired by Piero Scaruffi

The LASERs are a national program of evening gatherings that bring artists and scientists together for informal presentations and conversation with an audience. See the program for the whole series. The event is free and open to everybody. Email me if you want to be added to the mailing list for the LASERs. Like previous evenings, the agenda includes some presentations of art/science projects, news from the audience, and time for casual socializing/networking. This event is kindly sponsored by the Minerva Foundation.
Where: UC Berkeley
Soda Hall, Room 306 HP Auditorium
NOTE: Use the WEST-entrance of SODA Hall entering from Etcheverry Plaza.
Campus map
What (the order of the speakers might change):
  • 7:00-7:25: Sasha Petrenko (Choreographer) on "A World without Nature" Choreography reflecting a more integrated planetary existence... Read more
  • 7:25-7:50: Pieter Abbeel (UC Berkeley/ Robotics) on "How to train your robot" The ideas behind two promising types of robot learning... Read more
  • 7:50-8:10: BREAK. Before or after the break, anyone in the audience currently working within the intersections of art and science will have 30 seconds to share their work. Please present your work as a teaser so that those who are interested can seek you out during social time following the event.
  • 8:10-8:35: Christine Metzger (California college of the Arts) on "Lights, Camera...Fiction?" How much science (mis)education do we get from movies?... Read more
  • 8:35-9:00: Jenn Smith (Mills College) on "Family Matters in Wild Mammals" Cooperation is common in mammalian societies... Read more
  • 9:00pm-9:30pm: Discussions, networking You can mingle with the speakers and the audience

See also...
  • Other LASER series
  • Leonardo ISAST
  • Art, Technology, Culture Colloquia
  • Other LASER series
  • ScienceSchmoozer
  • LAST Festival
    • Pieter Abbeel (Associate Professor, UC Berkeley EECS) works in machine learning and robotics, in particular his research is on making robots learn by watching people (apprenticeship learning) and how to make robots learn through their own trial and error (reinforcement learning). His robots have learned: advanced helicopter aerobatics, knot-tying, basic assembly, and organizing laundry. His awards include best paper awards at ICML and ICRA, Young Investigator Awards from AFOSR, ONR, Darpa and NSF, the Sloan Fellowship, the MIT TR35, the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Early Career Award, and the Dick Volz Best U.S. Ph.D. Thesis in Robotics and Automation Award.
    • Christine Metzger is CCA's first tenure-track assistant professor of Earth and environmental science. Dr. Metzger is currently a co-principal investigator for a 3-year, interdisciplinary National Science Foundation grant: Exploring Science in the Studio, which funds continued efforts to embed scientists into the studio curriculum. She is also the developer of many interdisciplinary courses that bring science to arts and design students, such as Bad Science at the Movies which is an introductory geology class as seen via the lens of Hollywood disaster movies, and Life on Earth through Time, a history of four-billion years of life history that incorporates illustration and other creative work with science. In her research, Dr. Metzger is interested in using paleosols (ancient soils) as a proxy for understanding how landscapes and ecosystems respond to environmental changes. Dr. Metzger represented California College of the Arts at the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Conference of the Parties 17, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2010. In the summers, Dr. Metzger is an instructor for Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth summer program, where she teaches a college-level Paleobiology course to academically gifted 12- to 16-year olds in a three-week residential program.
    • Sasha Kolin Petrenko is an educator, intermedia artist, environmental choreographer and founding member of the New Urban Naturalists. Her site specific installations and performances have been supported, commissioned and presented nationally at institutions including Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (SF), Robert Wilson's Watermill Center (NY), Southern Exposure (SF), the Lab (SF), the Temescal Arts Center (OAK), the University of San Francisco, the Headlands Center for the Arts (CA), and the Djerassi Foundation (CA). She teaches drawing, woodworking and new media at the University of San Francisco, Diablo Valley College, and the public education program at the San Francisco Art Institute.
    • Piero Scaruffi is a cognitive scientist who has lectured in three continents and published several books on Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science, the latest one being "The Nature of Consciousness" (2006). He pioneered Internet applications in the early 1980s and the use of the World-Wide Web for cultural purposes in the mid 1990s. His poetry has been awarded several national prizes in Italy and the USA. His latest book of poems and meditations is "Synthesis" (2009). As a music historian, he has published ten books, the latest ones being "A History of Rock and Dance Music" (2009) and "A History of Jazz Music" (2007). His latest book of history is "A History of Silicon Valley" (2011). The first volume of his free ebook "A Visual History of the Visual Arts" appeared in 2012. His latest book is "Demystifying Machine Intelligence" (2013). He has also written extensively about cinema and literature.
    • Jenn Smith is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Mills College. Her research integrates perspectives from evolutionary ecology, animal behavior, and physiology in an effort to understand how natural selection and current conditions shape decision-making in mammals. She combines naturalistic observations on free-living mammals with field experiments, genetic and endocrine analyses, and social network statistics to test evolutionary theory. Her work focusing on understanding the evolution of cooperation, leadership and social structures to reveal commonalities among mammalian societies. Her research includes studies of leadership roles in spotted hyenas in Kenya (covered by BBC News), the origins of cooperation in human societies , cover by NPR, and, most recently, a local field project focuses on, The Behavioral Ecology California Ground Squirrels at Briones Park.

    Extended abstracts:

    Cooperation is common in mammalian societies, including those of humans. Yet, it is remains unclear why individuals should sustain personal costs to help others. One novel solution to this evolutionary puzzle is the possibility that kin selection might favor helpful behaviors directed towards genetic relatives if individuals indirectly pass on genes shared with their relatives. Here, I first report on recent methodological advances for studying kinship among wild mammals. I then synthesize evidence for cooperation among kin in social mammals by d raw from my research on long-term field studies of cooperation in female-dominated hyenas living in Kenya, yellow-bellied marmots in Rocky Mountains, and California grounds squirrels in the San Francisco Bay Area. In doing so, I elucidate the relative influences of evolutionary and ecological forces favoring cooperation via kin selection in social mammals.


    How much science (mis)education do we get from movies? Bad Science at the Movies is a course taught at California College of the Arts that uses bad Hollywood disaster movies as a framework to learn about geology and as a springboard to debunk common myths in Earth and environmental science. From the implausible to the possible, films like The Core, Volcano, The Day After Tomorrow, and Jurassic Park captivate audiences but also defy basic scientific principles, flout the laws of physics, and often minimize the true scale of natural disasters. Using some back-of-envelope calculations, we can identify and examine these inconsistencies.

    Programming robots remains notoriously difficult. Equipping robots with the ability to learn would bypass the need for what often ends up being time-consuming task specific programming. In this talk I will sketch the ideas behind two promising types of robot learning: Apprenticeship learning, in which robots learn from watching human demonstrations. Reinforcement learning, in which robots learn through their own trial and error. I will highlight capabilities enabled by these approaches, such as autonomous helicopter aerobatics, knot-tying, cloth manipulation, basic suturing, and will also describe some of our latest work in deep reinforcement learning, which I believe has the potential to significantly advance robotics in the foreseeable future.


    Nature is often seen as something pure and innocent, something that must be protected and kept separate. It's becoming more clear however that this kind of thinking, Nature as Other, may not only be erroneous, but deadly. Imagine a world without Nature (capital 'N'). I'll share my own path as an artist and naturalist and explore instances in art, science and literature that reflect a more integrated planetary existence, one that holds ecology as the pivot point for human and extra human progress and survival.

    Photos and videos of this evening