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Valerie, the Carnegie Mellon Robo-ceptionist.

The Rustbelt, Again?
part 1 2 3 4

Walk into the computer science building at Carnegie Mellon University, and you're greeted by Valerie, the robotic receptionist.

"Hello," she says, answering a call. "Yes, this is Newell-Simon Hall. I'll check."

Her cartoonish face is on a swiveling computer screen: blond hair, headset, and a somewhat jaded expression. She can actually help you, though you have to type in your questions. Professor Reed Simmons helped create Valerie.

"She sits out in front of Newell-Simon Hall from nine to five," says Simmons, "answers people's questions about where various things are. And she's a collaboration with the School of Drama, so we've given her a character and a back story and a life, and if you ask about her, she can tell you all the things that are going on in her life."

Simmons types: "How is your mother?"

Valerie answers, "Like most robots, I have a motherboard, and like most robots, mine won't stop calling me. She says she's just checking up, but it drives me crazy! I'm 35, leave me alone."

Carnegie Mellon is a world leader in robotics and some other high-tech fields. President Jared Cohon says he welcomes the high hopes that Pittsburgh now places on its universities.

"I've mentioned globalization as one of our top five strategic priorities," says Cohon. "The development of our region is another one. Where we as a university have committed ourselves to do what we can to help western Pennsylvania to grow."

Cohon says Carnegie Mellon is collaborating with the University of Pittsburgh on business incubation. And it's working hard to turn science into local jobs.

"We estimate that there are about 150 start-up companies or more based on Carnegie Mellon technology and most of those, about three-fourths of those, are in Pittsburgh," says Cohon. "Thousands of people are being employed by those companies. But we want to add to that and get even more going."

These days, Cohon says, to stay on the leading edge of science, a school like Carnegie Mellon has to plug itself into leading high-tech corporations, not only in the United States, but across the world. The competition is stiff. Hundreds of universities - at home, and increasingly, abroad - are trying to do the same thing. And like Pittsburgh, every city is scrambling to create high-tech jobs. Though even those jobs aren't rock solid.


Continue to part 3