Award-winning engineer Cori Lathan speaks to Wilson students


Photo courtesy of Cori Lathan

Jamie Stewart-Aday

Much speculation has been made about the future of robots in our society. Beyond the fear of robot world domination, real stories about robots taking people’s jobs have been making headlines. With all these negative headlines, it is easy to think that the future of robot-human interaction is bleak. However, there is at least one person who sees robots as tools not to destroy human life, but to enhance it. That person is Dr. Cori Lathan.

Lathan spoke at Wilson as part of the Nifty Fifty speaker series, put on by the USA Science and Engineering Festival in order to showcase 50 of the biggest names in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This year, the program featured 68 speakers who spoke to middle and high school students in the DC area and some parts of California.

Lathan holds a Bachelor’s degree in biopsychology and mathematics from Swarthmore college, as well as an M.S. degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics and a Ph.D. from MIT. While her studies centered around neuroscience, Lathan cherished the opportunities to take classes outside what she was usually learning. “College was the greatest because I could take all sorts of classes that were outside my main interests,” Lathan said. “I would find out who the best professors were and take their class. Two of my favorite were Urban Social Problems and Hebrew Scriptures. Both pretty different then my math and engineering classes!”

After college, Lathan founded the research and development firm AnthroTronix, where she currently serves as Chief Executive Officer, in order to pursue her goal of using technology to enhance human performance. This firm works on creating technology designed to allow people to function and interact better. Her work at AnthroTronix earned her the title of Maryland’s top innovator of the year in 2002, one of MIT Technology Review’s “Top 100 World Innovators,” and one of Fast Company Magazine’s “Most Creative People in Business.”

Although Lathan has done a lot to shape the tech world in past years, it is the future of technology that excites her the most. Over time, Lathan expects these technologies to become bigger influences on society. “Technologies like robotics and artificial intelligence will be more and more pervasive, changing the way we interact with our environment like riding in driverless cars,” predicted Lathan. Beyond driverless cars, Lathan predicts that biological implants will be used to give us better mobility, better vision, and better memory.

But Lathan knows that this future she desires will be created and lived in by young people, a group she is very hopeful for. “I like speaking with teens about the future of technology because they are usually optimistic,” Lathan said. “they know they can make a great future for themselves and they are curious about how science and technology can help make that happen.”

Although many students are pioneers in STEM subjects, Lathan knows this is not the experience for all students. This is why she wants to see significant changes in how these topics are taught in high schools. “I don’t think that anyone should EVER have to take a math class! I love math, but most people hate it and that’s because it isn’t taught in a context that teens can relate to.  Math should be taught in the context of an interesting problem,” said Lathan.

One example of an interesting problem Lathan believes could help get students interested in math: “If you study how to get to Mars, you will learn calculus!”