Manuela Veloso, PhD
Head of Carnegie Mellon University’s Machine Learning Department

When a computer beat chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1996, Manuela Veloso was impressed. But she also wondered how a robot would match up against a human in physical space.

So she and others created a team of robot soccer players.

The challenge was to have robots that can collaborate and learn,” says Veloso, a renowned computer scientist who has been on the Carnegie Mellon University faculty since 1992. “I worked with colleagues in Japan, Canada and many European countries such as Italy, Sweden and France. The problems of the physical world are complicated. We have to develop algorithms to have robots do tasks together (and) there are still many challenges. For instance, we can’t beat (Portuguese star) Cristiano Ronaldo … yet.”

Still, her teams are pretty good: Veloso’s CMU robot soccer team has won five world championships in the RoboCup small-size league.

Working with robots and artificial intelligence appeals to Veloso because there are many different aspects, she says. Researchers from different backgrounds and with different skill sets contribute, she says.

“How are humans going to interact with AI? It’s a map, but it’s also social,” she says. “There are many paths to working with AI. You can come from a social background, because the robots must interact with humans — we’re not just sending AI up to Mars or down a volcano. They’ll be among us. But it’s also about software, building, how to process data.”

Veloso, 60, is originally from Portugal and today lives in Squirrel Hill.

For students considering a career in tech, she offers several pieces of advice, including: “Learn your math, be good at what you do and place no limits on your potential.”