Cynthia Lynn Breazeal (born November 15, 1967 in Albuquerque, New Mexico) is an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she is the head of the Personal Robots group (formerly the Robotic Life Group) at the MIT Media Lab, and the associate director of strategic initiatives for The Bridge, part of the MIT Quest for Intelligence. She also served as co-director of the Center for Future Storytelling at the Media Lab. She is best known for her work in robotics, where she is recognized as a pioneer of social robotics and human–robot interaction.
Cynthia Breazeal received her B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1989, her M.S. in 1993, and her Sc.D. in 2000 in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, both from MIT.
She developed the robot Kismet as a doctoral thesis under Rodney Brooks, looking into expressive social exchange between humans and humanoid robots. Kismet and some of the other robots Breazeal co-developed while a graduate student at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab can now be seen at the MIT Museum. Notable examples include the upper torso humanoid robot Cog and the insect-like robot Hannibal.
At the Media Lab, Breazeal continues to work on social interaction and socially-situated learning between people and robots. Leonardo is another globally-recognized robot, co-developed with Stan Winston Studio, that was developed as a successor to Kismet (recognized in 2006 by Wired magazine as one of the "50 Best Robots Ever"). Leonardo was also used to investigate social cognition and Theory of Mind abilities on robots with application to human-robot collaboration, in addition to developing social learning abilities for robots such as imitation, tutelage, and social referencing. Nexi, the most recent robot in this tradition, was named by Time magazine as one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2008. Nexi is a MDS robot (Mobile, Dexterous, Social) that combines rich social communication abilities with mobile dexterity to investigate more complex forms of human-robot teaming.
Other social robots developed in Breazeal's Personal Robots group include Autom, a robot diet and exercise coach (the PhD thesis of Cory Kidd). It was found to be more effective than a computer counterpart in sustaining engagement and building trust and a working alliance with users. Autom is in the process of being commercialized (see Intuitive Automata). Breazeal's group has also explored expressive remote presence robots such as MeBot and Huggable. The physical social embodiment of the MeBot was found to elicit greater psychological involvement, engagement, and desire to cooperate over purely screen-based video conferencing or a mobile screen.
Breazeal's Personal Robots group has also done a number of design projects. Cyberflora was exhibited at the 2003 National Design Triennial at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.
She is an Overseer at the Museum of Science in Boston, and she is on the Board of Advisors of the Science Channel. She served as a consultant on the movie I, Robot.
She also has a prominent role as a virtual participant in a popular exhibit on robots with the traveling exhibit, Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, interacting with a real C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels) as she spoke to the audience through a pre-recorded message displayed on a large plasma flat-screen display.
In 2003, she was named by the MIT Technology Review TR100 as one of the top 100 innovators in the world under the age of 35.
On July 16, 2014, Breazeal launched an Indiegogo campaign to crowdfund the development of the JIBO personal assistant robot. JIBO reached its initial fundraising goal and was due to launch in 2015, then later pushed to 2016, before finally being released in November 2017. The software development kit expected for developers was never released. On December 15, 2017 the company announced layoffs and in March 2019 it was reported that Jibo robots had announced "Maybe someday when robots are way more advanced than today, and everyone has them in their homes, you can tell yours that I said hello," before permanently shutting down. Breazeal has made no public comments in regard to the closing of Jibo.
Awards and recognition
Breazeal is recognized as a designer and innovator on the national and global stage. She received the Gilbreth Lectures Award by the National Academy of Engineering in 2008. She has received an ONR Young Investigator Award and Technology Review's TR100/35 Award, TIME magazine's Best Inventions of 2008, and has been honored as a finalist in the National Design Awards in Communication.
She has spoken at a number of prominent global events including the World Science Festival, the World Economic Forum, and TEDWomen. Breazeal is a featured scientist in the Women's Adventures in Science series (sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences).
In 2003, Breazeal was recognized as a Finalist in the National Design Awards in Communication at the White House. In 2014 she was recognized as an entrepreneur as Fortune Magazine’s Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs, and she was also a recipient of the L’Oreal USA Women in Digital NEXT Generation Award. The same year, she received the 2014 George R. Stibitz Computer & Communications Pioneer Award for seminal contributions to the development of Social Robotics and Human Robot Interaction. In 2015 Breazeal was named by Entrepreneur magazine as a Women to Watch.
- Breazeal, Cynthia (2002). Designing Sociable Robots. The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-02510-8.
- Turtle, Cynthia; Bar-Cohen, Yoseph (2003). Biologically Inspired Intelligent Robots. Bellingham, Washington: SPIE (The International Society for Optical Engineering). ISBN 0-8194-4872-9.
- Breazeal contributed one chapter to Architects of Intelligence: The Truth About AI from the People Building it, Packt Publishing, 2018, ISBN 978-1-78-913151-2, by the American futurist Martin Ford.