mad scientist event image

Bringing together experts in areas ranging from robotics to space, the Cockrell School of Engineering will host the U.S. Army’s annual Mad Scientist Conference on April 24-25 in the school’s Engineering Education and Research Center. The two-day event explored the individual and convergent impacts of technological innovations on the future of military operations, from present day through 2050.

Topics will include artificial intelligence and autonomy, robotics, the future of space, planetary habitability and the legal and ethical dilemmas surrounding how technological advances in these areas will impact our future, particularly in relation to land and space domains.

“The Cockrell School is a proud partner of the U.S. Army and we are pleased to host the Mad Scientist Conference this year,” said Sharon L. Wood, dean of the Cockrell School. “As we look to the future, these broad topics — autonomy, space and the role of artificial intelligence — will become increasingly important for our society and the defense of our country. We look forward to continued research collaborations with the Army well into the future.”

The Mad Scientist Conference is put on by the Mad Scientist Laboratory, a U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) initiative that continually explores the future through collaborative partnerships and continuous dialogue with academia, industry and government. Through this initiative, the Army shapes future multi-domain (i.e., land, air, sea, cyber and space) operations, and the program consists of an All Partners Access Network (APAN) community of action, a monthly online speaker series and conferences with world-class experts hosted at some of the nation’s premier academic institutions. This is the first time The University of Texas at Austin has hosted the conference.

The two-day conference is open to all UT faculty, staff and students. The first day will center around robotics. Peter Stone, computer science professor at UT Austin, will present on the 2050 Robocup Challenge and its significance to machine learning. Mitch Pryor, research scientist and lecturer in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering, will follow Stone’s presentation, speaking on the necessity of transitioning the technology developed within academia beyond the walls of academia. Aerospace engineering professor Maruthi Akella and associate professor Todd Humphreys will close the day with their thoughts on the reliability of autonomous robotics.

The second day of the conference will focus on the future of space and ethical practices in the space economy. Panelists Ken Fleischmann, Jakki Bailey, Danna Gurari and Matt Lease, all professors in UT’s School of Information, will participate in a moderated discussion regarding ethical practices of AI innovation. Moriba Jah, associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, and Diane Howard, professor in UT’s School of Law, will present on space traffic management. Later in the day, Andrew Ellington, molecular biosciences professor, and Krista Soderlund, research associate in the Institute of Geophysics, will speak about the habitability of planets.

A video of the full conference will be available at

Event Details

Wednesday, April 24 and Thursday, April 25
Mulva Auditorium
Engineering Education and Research Center
2501 Speedway


Wednesday, April 24

8 – 8:40 AM

8:40 – 9:20 AM
Welcome Remarks

9:20 – 10:05 AM
Keynote Speaker
James Canton, Global Futurist, Institute for Global Futures

THEME: Robotics

10:30 – 11:15 AM
AI and Future Warfare
Robert O. Work, Senior Counselor for Defense and Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security, Center for a New American Security, and Owner, TeamWork, LLC

11:15 AM – 12 PM
System of System-Enhanced Small Units (SESU)
Paul Zablocky, Program Manager, Strategic Technology Office, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

1:30 – 2:15 PM
The Robocup Challenge (2050) and Human in the Loop Machine Learning
Peter Stone, Professor, Computer Science, UT Austin
Garrett Warnell, Research Scientist, Army Research Lab South

2:15 – 3 PM
Transitioning Technology and People out of Academia
Mitch Pryor, Research Scientist, Mechanical Engineering, UT Austin
Brian O’Neil, Research and Development Engineer, Los Alamos National Labs

3 – 3:45 PM
Reliable Autonomous Robotics: Perception, Learning, and Trust
Maruthi Akella, Professor, Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, UT Austin
Todd Humphreys, Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, UT Austin

4 – 4:45 PM
Human-Robot Interaction and Disaster Robotics
Coitt Kessler, Robotics for Emergency Deployment Team, Austin Fire Department
Julie A. Adams, Associate Director of Research, Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Oregon State University

Thursday, April 25

8 – 8:45 AM
Accurate Technology Forecasting to Enable Army Operational Overmatch into the Deep Future
Troy Alexander, Technology Forecasting Lead, Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC), Army Research Laboratory

THEME: Future of Space and Ethics

8:45 – 9:30 AM
Robotics in Space
Julia Badger, Project Manager, Robotics Intelligence for Human Spacecraft Team, NASA

9:30 – 10:30 AM
PANEL: Ethics and the Future of AI Innovation
Moderator: Ken Fleischmann, Associate Professor, UT Austin School of Information
Jakki Bailey, Assistant Professor, UT Austin School of Information
Danna Gurari, Assistant Professor, UT Austin School of Information
Matt Lease, Associate Professor, UT Austin School of Information
Evanna Hu, Fellow, International Security Program at New America, CEO and Partner of Omelas

10:45 – 11:30 AM
Hypersonics and Autonomy in Near Earth Orbit
Alex Roesler, Deputy Director of the Integrated Military Systems Center, Sandia National Labs
Gary Polansky, Chief Scientist for Hypersonic Technology Development and Applications, Sandia National Labs

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Space Traffic Management and Situational Awareness
Moriba Jah, Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, UT Austin
Diane Howard, Adjunct Professor, UT Austin School of Law

1:45 – 2:45 PM
PANEL: Space Law Games
Matt Bold, Lockheed Martin
Diane Howard, Sustaining Orbital Activities, Laws, Policies, and Strategies
Student Panelists

2:45 – 3:30 PM
Planet Habitability and Life Forms
Xenobiology for Military Applications: Andrew D. Ellington, Professor, Molecular Biosciences, UT Austin
Europa Clipper Mission: Krista Soderlund, Research Associate, UT Austin Institute for Geophysics

3:45 – 4:30 PM
Science Fiction and the Future Operational Environment
Martha Wells, Science Fiction Author, Murderbot Diaries