CHPS Coffee Talks bring together faculty and graduate students from several different academic departments within the University of Colorado, Boulder. At each meeting, one researcher (from CU or elsewhere) presents their recent work in progress in an informal, constructive atmosphere. These meetings yield valuable feedback for the speakers, while also informing the participants about critical research being done in other departments.

Recent Coffee Talk topics have included climate change, models in historical science, origin of life, science and religion, and biology education. If you are a graduate student or faculty member at CU and would like to present your research at one of these meetings, please contact CHPS with a brief description of your current research.

Previous Coffee Talks:

March, 2023: Morteza Lahijanian (CU, Engineering), "Social Trust in Autonomous Robots: a Formal Methods Perspective"

  • Abstract: Autonomous systems are poised to become an integral part of our economy, infrastructure, and society. They are rapidly gaining more capabilities via AI components and serving in ever more safety-critical roles. However, as their complexities grow, the more impossible it becomes to provide safety guarantees for their decisions and overall performance. Recent (and frequent) catastrophic accidents involving autonomous systems, e.g., several Tesla autopilot fatal accidents per year, also show that sole engineering progress in the technology is not enough to guarantee a safe and productive partnership between a human and a robot. In this talk, I argue that formal methods combined with control theory and machine learning techniques can form powerful tools to address some of these problems, but not all.  We also need to advance our understanding of the role of social trust within human-robot relationships, and formulate a theory for expressing and reasoning about trust in the context of decisions affecting collaboration or competition between humans and robots. This requires cross-disciplinary collaborations to study the formalization of social trust in the context of human-robot relationship. I show my attempt to lay down a groundwork for such a study.  

September 2022: Stuart Bartlett (CalTech), "Searching for Lyfe and Genesity using Epsilon Machines"

  • Abstract: As our reach into the universe expands rapidly, astrobiologists are increasingly cognisant of the so-called 'substrate independence' of many biological processes. Replication, homeostasis, symbiosis, competition, chemotaxis and learning, rather than being intrinsically associated with life, can all be exhibited by a range of non-living systems. Combining this with the strong influence of chance events on the evolution of esoteric details of life as we know it, one sees the eminent possibility that life elsewhere could be drastically different in composition. This compels us to examine which combinations of processes (rather than components) should be expected to be exhibited by all life in the universe (subsets of which would not fulfil the sufficient conditions of being alive). This line of reasoning led us to propose a new definition of life, which we call 'lyfe', along with a new and more general framework for habitability, which we call 'genesity'. In this talk, I will describe the 'four pillars of lyfe', the three factors which enter into a planet's genesity, and a new study that seeks agnostic signs of lyfe using only the complexity of reflected exoplanet light signals.