Aerospace CEO discusses robotics at 172nd Landon Lecture

The Landon Lecture Series hosted Wes Bush on Sept. 6, 2016, at McCain Auditorium. He specializes in autonomic technologies and the development of artificial intelligence software. (Nick Horvath | The Collegian)

Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman, spoke Tuesday night for the 172nd Landon Lecture in McCain Auditorium.

The topic of the evening was robotics, though Bush does not refer to his company’s technology as robotics. Throughout the lecture, he spoke of autonomous systems. The difference, he stressed, between robots and autonomous systems is the ability to perform tasks without humans, like driverless cars.

“People look at the idea of a driverless car and think, ‘That’s not too tough,'” Bush said. “But they must prioritize risk, evaluate harm and act in an instant, at least as good as a human driver.”

According to Bush, human drivers experience 6 million auto accidents a year, including 35,000 deaths. Thirty-five percent of those are caused by human error.

Bush is an “engineer by training and profession,” and spoke at Kansas State in the College of Engineering three years ago. He mentioned not only how impressed he is with the amount of purple there is on campus, but also the importance of universities to technology, referring to them as “innovation ecosystems.”

“Universities are a core part of enabling technology, in the advancement and integration of information,” Bush said.

The technology, in Bush’s eyes, is already in full swing, as universities help.

“In terms of cognitive autonomy, that genie is well out of the bottle and cannot be ignored,” Bush said.

After 35 minutes, the lecture went into a question-and-answer session, where students could ask Bush anything relating to the lecture or the field. Nine students asked the Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate about topics ranging from animals and technology to problems at the Pentagon and how his company is working on fending off potential hackers.

Drew Ewing, senior in industrial engineering, attended this as his first lecture and said he was happy with this opportunity, as he was “intrigued about autonomous systems.”

“I think the Landon Lectures are really good opportunities to see the world at large,” Ewing said. “I realized there are more ethical understanding than taken into account, and they really define industry.”

Ewing came out of McCain learning that the technology in place now is “further than I thought.” Other students, including Emily Muckelbauer, sophomore in marketing, said they felt the lecture taught them about the industry.

“I came for a class extra credit opportunity and I felt like I learned a lot about the different technologies,” Muckelbauer said.

She was not surprised when she walked up to the event and saw two groups protesting the event, including the Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice and the Westboro Baptist Church. (See article below for more.)

The Landon Lecture series began in 1966 by former K-State President James McCain. The series is named after former Kansas Gov. Alfred Landon. Six former U.S. presidents, the president of Costa Rica, journalists, authors and politicians have spoken at these events over the past 50 years.