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Q&A With Chair of New Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Ethics

IEEE Fellow Andrea Goldsmith explains what the group will address

5 min read
Illustration of a large number of diverse people
Illustration: iStockphoto

THE INSTITUTEThe IEEE Board of Directors in February approved an ad hoc committee on diversity, inclusion, and professional ethics. The Institute interviewed IEEE Fellow Andrea Goldsmith, chair of the committee, about what the group will be working on, what led to its formation, and what diversity and inclusion mean in a global organization.

Goldsmith, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, has been involved in diversity and inclusion efforts for the two IEEE societies she belongs to: Communications and Information Theory. She is the founding chair of the IEEE Technical Activities Board’s committee on diversity and inclusion—which came out of a TAB ad hoc committee on women and underrepresented groups.

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Illustration showing an astronaut performing mechanical repairs to a satellite uses two extra mechanical arms that project from a backpack.

Extra limbs, controlled by wearable electrode patches that read and interpret neural signals from the user, could have innumerable uses, such as assisting on spacewalk missions to repair satellites.

Chris Philpot

What could you do with an extra limb? Consider a surgeon performing a delicate operation, one that needs her expertise and steady hands—all three of them. As her two biological hands manipulate surgical instruments, a third robotic limb that’s attached to her torso plays a supporting role. Or picture a construction worker who is thankful for his extra robotic hand as it braces the heavy beam he’s fastening into place with his other two hands. Imagine wearing an exoskeleton that would let you handle multiple objects simultaneously, like Spiderman’s Dr. Octopus. Or contemplate the out-there music a composer could write for a pianist who has 12 fingers to spread across the keyboard.

Such scenarios may seem like science fiction, but recent progress in robotics and neuroscience makes extra robotic limbs conceivable with today’s technology. Our research groups at Imperial College London and the University of Freiburg, in Germany, together with partners in the European project NIMA, are now working to figure out whether such augmentation can be realized in practice to extend human abilities. The main questions we’re tackling involve both neuroscience and neurotechnology: Is the human brain capable of controlling additional body parts as effectively as it controls biological parts? And if so, what neural signals can be used for this control?

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