Working with Andy, a robot used in testing algorithms for intelligent behavior, is Vasanth Sarathy.Working with "Andy," a robot used in testing algorithms for intelligent behavior, is Vasanth Sarathy.

An Arlington attorney-turned-scientist is among four grand-prize winners of the first National Science Foundation Idea Machine competition.

Vasanth Sarathy, a fifth-year doctoral candidate at Tufts University, with colleague Matthias Scheutz, share in $26,000 for their project "From Thinking to Inventing."

"I feel honored," Sarathy told YourArlington. "There were so many strong entries spanning a variety of different scientific disciplines."

The resident wrote: "Winning it means I have a unique opportunity to help inform the national research strategy and lead the conversation about the next generation of scientific research" in artificial intelligence.

"I am excited that the NSF will be able to invest money in researching how we can build creative problem-solving machines and better understand our own human intelligence."

His comments explaining his work reflected those expressed on a Medium blog post.

Targeting society's most pressing problems

In an email, he wrote: "Machines are already great at crunching data and learning patterns, but cannot adequately improvise, handle novel situations, or find creative solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems. These are all capabilities we need from machines, now more than ever to help us tackle some of society’s most pressing problems like climate change, wealth inequality and rising health-care costs."

Sarathy is scheduled to defend his dissertation at the end of March and, after that, graduate with a Ph.D. in cognitive and computer science. His research focuses on computational approaches to understanding human intelligence and creativity.
He previously received a master's degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT and a juris doctor from Boston University School of Law.

Before coming to Tufts, he was an attorney and practiced intellectual-property law for nearly a decade at Ropes & Gray in Boston.

'I love it here'

He and his family have lived in Arlington for more than six years. "I love it here," he wrote. "Both my kids were born here, and we enjoy Magnolia Park, the Minuteman, Classic Cafe (up near Park St.) and of course Quebrada, for its awesome baked goods," adding a smiley emoji.

"My kids also enjoy the Arlington Boys & Girls Club, where we also buy our annual Christmas tree."  

Those who want to contact him may do so on Twitter:

National Science Foundation awardees were honored Tuesday, Feb. 4, at a ceremony in Alexandria, Va.

In addition to four grand-prize were three meritorious prize winners. All are listed here >> 

The idea “From Thinking to Inventing” is also featured on the foundation website >> 

About the photo

The photo accompanying this story shows "Andy," a "PR2 Robot" made by Willow Garage. He is a research robot that allows those involved to design and test algorithms for intelligent behavior as well as conduct experiments involving human-robot interaction. The picture was taken in the Tufts HRI Lab, whose director is professor Scheutz, Sarathy's teammate.

Medium, Feb. 4: From Thinking to Inventing — Ushering in the Next Phase of AI 

This news feature was published Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.