At Falling Walls Berlin, the ‘Academy’ Award Goes to…

Myon, a modular humanoid, at Falling Walls Berlin

It wasn’t Hollywood. It wasn’t glamour.

But that didn’t stop the robot (all of them) from taking home a virtual ‘Oscar’ for best performance in a science informational video.

The audience at Falling Walls Berlin, a three-day conference showcasing the work of internationally known experts, released a synchronized “ahhhhhh” watching a clip of Myon, a modular humanoid, move without taking direction from his human being creators. Invented by members of the Neurobotics Research Laboratory at Humboldt University in Berlin, Myon appeared to learn gestures by mimicking movements from other robots.

Luc Steels, renowned artificial intelligence researcher, played one video during his presentation of experimental bots in a test kitchen making pancakes.

Not even Ai Weiwei, Chinese dissident artist, could elicit the same crowd response, but still got the audience’s attention early on when he unveiled via teleconference his new artistic collaboration, Moon.

Falling Walls Berlin is as close to a who’s who awards ceremony as it comes for the international scientific community, one that coincides each year with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and brings together nearly 800 artists, social researchers, scientists, tech entrepreneurs, and the media (Yes, there was at least one Nobel Laureate in attendance.).

The hope: a synergy of great minds in disparate fields will lead to answers for pressing global problems. Conference goers watched 15-minute presentations, similar to the format of TED talks, on topics such as the Human Brain Project to the Higgs boson to artificial leaves that might solve the global energy crisis.

Anita Goel’s Nanobiosym global initiative was, as she described it on stage, “the tip of the iceberg” in next generation health care. Goel’s team in Cambridge, Mass., has created nanomotors that arrest the process of gene replication, tools that have huge implications for personalized medicine, such as in the treatment of cancer.

In addition to speeches, were the forums, as science-related start ups nominated by either academic or venture capital institutions vied for recognition and funding.

Cynora, nominated by Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, won top start up award for technology that uses modern organic semiconductors instead of classical inorganics. These materials can be used to print light onto thin foils, labels, or as part of smart packaging.

Kafka. Human Rights Violations. Computational Creativity. There was research for everyone, as one hundred early-career scientists and academics had the opportunity to present their work in 3-minute talks on Friday (Nov. 8), including American Joseph Wofford, a scholar at the Paul-Drude-Institut für Festkörperelektronik in Berlin.

Wofford spoke on the commercialization of graphene, a material that must become not only financially viable in products, but exceedingly more viable than silicon so that graphene is “worth the trouble” to produce, he said.

The future is promising, or at least that’s how conference goers were made to feel, when over a loud speaker prerecorded quotes were read, each one depicting where the presenters were, and what it meant to them, at the moment the Berlin Wall fell.

But sometimes science is not about a grand vision or historical relevance.

Take, for example, artificial intelligence researcher Luc Steels who walks the streets of Barcelona with his robot dog. Steels told the audience he’s just trying to get it to bark back.

by Claudia Adrien

The article was originally published November 15, 2013 at

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.