AI and Robotics: Discerning between Hype and Reality

On June 26, swissnex China invited the world-renowned roboticist and futurist, Dr. Rolf Pfeifer, to share his profound insights in the field of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation. Dr. Pfeifer is currently Visiting Chair Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, and he is a scientific consultant for “Living with Robots” Ltd. Moreover, he is co-founder of the National Robotics Center in Switzerland. 

 Dr. Pfeifer shared his deep insights on AI and robotics with the audience at our Living with Robots event on June 26, 2018.

Dr. Pfeifer shared his deep insights on AI and robotics with the audience at our Living with Robots event on June 26, 2018.

Our CEO Dr. Felix Moesner opened the lecture by warmly welcoming Dr. Pfeifer and a full-house audience, which included representatives from top academic institutions, blue-chip companies and venture capitalists. Dr. Pfeifer took the stage and underlined the importance of bridging the gap between the academia and the public, especially with the rampant "Robotic Hype" in public media. The sheer scale of AI and Robotics-related projects has been astounding, backed up by substantial investments from leading institutions, organizations and nations. 

Dr. Pfeifer then presented the history and design process of social and service robots, illustrating his points with his Roboy project as an example. He argued that the AI Hype largely concerns so-called “deep neural networks”, or deep learning, exemplified by AlphaGo’s spectacular wins over the world champion Lee Sedol in 2016. In passing, Dr. Pfeifer also stressed the importance of materials in robotics, using the "Thimbles-Experiment" as an example.

 The audience was mesmerized by Dr. Pfeifer's deep insights throughout his eloquent lecture.

The audience was mesmerized by Dr. Pfeifer's deep insights throughout his eloquent lecture.

Last but least, Dr. Pfeifer presented to the audience his innovative new ROBOLOUNGE project, which is a conceptual café / lounge where robots rather than human staff look after the clients. The venue will allow customers to have a unique futuristic experience where one can expect to have a tactile close encounter with robots. In closing, Dr. Pfeifer reiterated the challenges of pitching robotics-related projects given the gap between public expectation and reality, and offered some special advice and insight on the topic.

Dr. Pfeifer's presentation clearly affirms the image that “Switzerland is the Silicon Valley of Robotics” as stated by Chris Anderson, former editor at WIRED magazine in 2017. The audience, mesmerized by his poignant lecture, were keen to pepper him with questions in the Q&A session and connect with him after the event. 


We would like to express our special thanks to Dr. Pfeifer for sharing with us his deep insight on AI and robotics and for bringing his passionate fervor on the subject to our lively evening event. His impressive talk was punctuated by spontaneous applauses. We are also grateful to SwissCham China Shanghai's Digital Committee (Gianna Abegg), the University of Zurich Alumni Shanghai Chapter, and the ETH Zurich Alumni Shanghai Chapter for their collaboration for the event.