Rodney Brooks is the father of the Roomba, the founder of iRobot, and the creator of both the Baxter and Sawyer product lines from Rethink Robotics. He's arguably the world's most accomplished roboticist. And if he's not – and I personally can't think of who could challenge him for that crown – he's definitely the top roboticist to be profiled in an Errol Morris documentary (1997's Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control).
When Rodney left Australia for the region that would later become known as Silicon Valley, there were quite literally 3 mobile robots of consequence on the entire planet. Years later, he founded a company which has since brought tens of millions of these critters into the world. His products have saved countless lives. They have also liberated thousands of acres of carpeting from dust crumbs, dog hair, and other detritus.
Amazingly, Rodney's tenure and credentials are every bit as significant in a second high tech field: artificial intelligence. He founded the leading developer of AI coding tools throughout the 80s and early 90s. And somehow he squeezed his robotics and AI entrepreneurship in while building a storied academic career – largely at MIT, where he spent a decade running one of the two largest and most prominent AI centers in the world.
Rodney is my guest in this week's edition of the After on Podcast. You can listen to our interview by searching "After On" in your favorite podcast app, or by clicking right here:
As you'll hear, Rodney diverges from fashionable narratives on several tech-related topics. They include super AI risk; the extent to which jobs will be imperiled by automation (he's more worried about a labor shortage than a job shortage); and the timeline of the rise of self-driving cars (this being intersection of his two domains of foundational expertise: robotics and AI).
Few can match the breadth, depth, and duration of Rodney's purview on the tech industry – which makes for a truly fascinating conversation.