Emily Cross: Mind Meets Machine - Neurocognitive Perspectives on Human-Robot Interaction

PLENARY SESSION 5 | Thursday, August 22, 9:00 - 10:15 | Auditorium 1 (1441-011)


Prof. Cross is both a dancer and cognitive neuroscientist by training; she is professor for Social Brain Sciences at the ETH Zurich, and co-​directs the Social Brain in Action Laboratory. Prior to this, she has held professorships at Bangor University (Wales), University of Glasgow (Scotland), Macquarie University (Australia) and the MARCS Institute at Western Sydney University (Australia). Prof. Cross' research is focused on how different kinds of embodied experience shape th way we learn from and perceive others in a complex social world, and across a variety of experience domains. Throughout her career, Cross has combined intensive learning paradigms with pre-​/post-​training brain imaging measures, to build a richer understanding of experience-​dependent plasticity at brain and behavioural levels.  She is internationally highly regarded for developing innovative neurocognitive paradigms to explore the mechanisms and consequences of people’s social engagement with robots.

Abstract of lecture

Understanding how we perceive and interact with others is a core challenge of social cognition research. This challenge is poised to intensify in importance as the ubiquity of artificial intelligence and the presence of humanoid robots in society grows. This talk examines how established theories and methods from psychology and neuroscience are revealing fundamental aspects of how people perceive, interact with, and form social relationships with robots. Robots provide a resolutely new approach to studying brain and behavioural flexibility manifest by humans during social interaction. As machines, they can deliver behaviours that can be perceived as “social”, even though they are artificial agents and, as such, can be programmed to deliver a perfectly determined and reproducible set of actions. As development of service robots, home companion robots and assistance robots for schools, hospitals and care homes continues apace, whether we perceive such machines as social agents and how we engage with them over the long term remains largely unexplored. This talk describes research that bridges social cognition, neuroscience and robotics, with important implications not only for the design of social robots, but equally critically, for our understanding of the neurocognitive mechanisms supporting human social behaviour more generally.