The Robothespian

by on March 16, 2017 at 12:55 am in The Arts, Web/Tech | Permalink

When Judy Norman walks on stage for the play Spillikin, she performs beside a somewhat different cast member — a humanoid robot.

Featuring a “robothespian”, the play brings love and technology together for a story about an engineer who builds a robot to keep his wife company after he dies.

Yet accuracy is required from the human thespian:

The robot is connected to the theatre’s control room, where a laptop transmits cues for its performance.

“[There is] a big pressure on the actor…to always have the right lines, always stand in the right place so that the robot is looking at the right direction at that particular moment,” Welch said.

Onstage, Norman talks to the robot and even kisses it. In return, the robot replies, displays facial expressions and moves its hands.

spillikin

Here is the full story, with more photos and video, via Michelle Dawson.

1 Robert March 16, 2017 at 1:25 am

Some would consider the longest running play of all time to have a cast of robots! That would be “Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress”, initially opening at the 1964 NY Worlds’ Fair and now running at Walt Disney World, Florida.

2 Anonymous March 16, 2017 at 1:39 am

I too thought of the Carousel (Anaheim version) of my youth.

3 Lord Action March 16, 2017 at 10:50 am

Also totally underrated as a napping spot.

Though my 4 year-old, who hasn’t been there in two years, can still sing that song from memory. Really loudly, and at inopportune times, like at a restaurant and without warning.

4 carlospln March 16, 2017 at 2:43 am

‘Ray Kurzweil on Line 2’

https://www.businessinsider.com.au/googles-chief-futurist-thinks-we-could-start-living-forever-by-2029-2016-4

Is this guy, like, the Jester to Larry & Sergei’s Court?

5 dan1111 March 16, 2017 at 6:11 am

There’s no way that the singularity comes by 2045. In the last 30 years we have made very little progress in life expectancy or fighting major diseases, but in 30 years we are going to live forever and have nanorobots fixing our bodies? Pfffffft.

He cites, basically, Moore’s law as evidence, but we have already had incredibly powerful computers for awhile now, and they haven’t led to much meaningful health benefit. The main problem is the development of algorithms converting computing power to intelligence, and this has not progressed at an exponential rate.

6 Todd K March 16, 2017 at 10:57 am

“In the last 30 years we have made very little progress in life expectancy or fighting major diseases,”

U.S. life expectancy in 1987 = 75 years, life expectacy in 2017 = 79 years.

I assume you consider HIV a major disease. Compare the state of HIV/AIDS medicine in 1987 – 1992 with 2012 – 2017. Death from AIDS was 20 per 100,000 in 1994 to 2 per 100,000 in 2014, a 90% drop.

Deaths from heart disease for men: 1987 = 470 per 100,000; 2015 = 200 per 100,000; a 57% drop. Deaths from heart disease for women: 1987 = 290 per 100,000; 2015 = 120 per 100,000; a 59% decrease. (U.S)

Deaths from stroke: 1987 = 80 per 100,000; 2015 = 40 per 100,000; a 50% decline.

Deaths from cancer: 1990 = 200 per 100,000; 2015 = 170 per 100,000; a 15% decline that will soon accelerate .

Deaths from influena and pneumonia: 1990 = 32 per 100,000; 2015 = 16 per 100,000; a 50% decrease.

And all of this is before stem cell and gene therapies kick in as well as those health pills.

7 Lord Action March 16, 2017 at 11:21 am

Isn’t this pretty good evidence of dan1111’s point?

By your data we’ve made four year’s life expectancy progress in thirty years, which is less than our prior achievements. Pointing out that we’re working on diverse hard problems rather than one big thing doesn’t make it better.

It looks a lot more like diminishing returns than accelerating returns.

8 Anonymous March 16, 2017 at 11:28 am

Note that Dan was agreeing with Carol as well. “Jester.”

Basically, no Kurzweil fans on this page.

9 Lord Action March 16, 2017 at 11:36 am

The Singularity was a really clever prediction that doesn’t seem to be coming true.

10 The Engineer March 16, 2017 at 11:41 am

I don’t think that there is any question that there are SOME people alive today who take their health very seriously, follow scientific advancements very closely, and fine tune their lifestyle in such a way that will greatly extend their lifetimes. Kurzweil is probably one of those people.

We still need to find out if there is an upper limit to how long people can live. Is 120 a hard barrier? If lifestyle tweaks allow that barrier to be broken, perhaps there is no upper limit.

11 Todd K March 16, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Gains in life expectancy have slowed down a little but about the same. In 1957 it was 71 and in 1987 it was 75. The larger gains were from 1927 to 1957 when life expectancy in the U.S. went from 61 to 71, a ten year gain.

But you can’t say that a 90% slash in AIDS deaths, a 60% decline in heart disease deaths and a 50% decrease in death from strokes is “little progress in fighting major diseases” over the past 30 years.

I’m a big Kurzweil fan in part because my version of a Black Hole, what he calls The Singularity, that I saw in the 80s would occur around 2040 to 2060 based on a Moore’s Law extrapolation where it was clear that if the trend continued, the CPU numbers get insanely big and society would be incomprehensible – from a 1989 perspective. I didn’t think strong A.I was necessary nor did I say anything about immortality. I also didn’t think it was inevitable the trend would go into the 2040s.

Stem cells, gene therapies, advanced cancer treatments as well as health pills are definitely coming to a decade near you: the 2020s.

12 Lord Action March 16, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Please don’t take this as technological pessimism or a prediction that we’re done, we know all we’ll ever know. Or as a statement that I’m not at least a little bit worried about AI. It’s the Singularity, the idea that we’re on the cusp of some spiral of accelerating returns that I’m especially incredulous about. Singularity or Stagnation are not the only two possibilities.

I don’t think there’s anyone alive today who has any longevity secrets of more than small effect. There’s a long history of debunked and over-hyped ideas in that realm. As to whether there’s some lifespan barrier, there’s some reason to think so, but not a lot of evidence. And if there is a specific barrier, presumably it will eventually be overcome by technical means. But we’re a long way from addressing that.

13 jim jones March 16, 2017 at 5:32 am

I feel sorry for members of the Nomenklatura. Imagine having to spend your free time watching ridiculous “Art” and eating in Mongolian themed restaurants.

14 chuck martel March 16, 2017 at 5:58 am

The CBC must get the blame in this instance but, like many others, the web page repeats information over and over. Perhaps it’s being constructed by a robot. In any event, the quality of web pages in the domain of major media outlets is ridiculous.

15 rayward March 16, 2017 at 6:50 am

“In return, the robot replies, displays facial expressions and moves its hands.” Typical spouse.

16 Axa March 16, 2017 at 8:25 am

In this case working with a dumb robot is more difficult than working with a human. But, there are not dumb robot, so this is not a robot. It’s closer to play a CD and dance following the music.

Professional performers in an scenario adapt to the failures of their colleagues and save the day. If someone says the wrong line they improvise and answer with an adapted line ,not the “right” one on the script. Dancers also fix mistakes on the fly. It may not be the choreography they practiced, but the movements must look graceful and fluid.

17 Thiago Ribeiro March 16, 2017 at 8:29 am

As people become robots, robots become people.

18 dan1111 March 16, 2017 at 9:01 am

And vice versa.

19 Thiago Ribeiro March 16, 2017 at 9:19 am

And so on and so forth.

20 CMOT March 16, 2017 at 9:26 am

If its controlled from offstage it’s not a robot, it’s a puppet.

21 Anonymous March 16, 2017 at 11:24 am

Ssssh. He’s got an MFA in puppetry to pay off.

22 Pshrnk March 16, 2017 at 1:16 pm

Definitely a puppet.

23 cthulhu March 16, 2017 at 10:23 am

Walter M. Miller’s Hugo-award-winning novella “The Darfsteller” seems apropos here.

24 Anonymous March 16, 2017 at 10:36 am

Robots have been a popular topic for several recent theatre plays – two of them are listed below. The robots in these plays are played by actual humans on stage, and not a set of gears manipulated by humans/computers off-stage.

The storyline for ‘Spillikin’ is very similar to that of ‘Marjorie Prime,’ recently nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. It is also about a ‘chatbot’ robot designed for dementia patients, where the robot looks, speaks, and acts like a former spouse.
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/15/theater/review-in-marjorie-prime-lois-smith-connects-with-the-past.html

Another recent play that touched on issues of robots was ‘Uncanny Valley’ – the initial scene for this play starts eerily with a talking robot head on a table (played by a human, with effective stage lighting), with the rest of the robot body being built and shown later.
http://dctheatrescene.com/2014/07/16/uncanny-valley-catf

Although the robots in these plays are played by humans, the playwrights did a very good job at showing possible issues involving the human/robotic interface.

25 Thiago Ribeiro March 16, 2017 at 11:05 am

Čapek rules!

26 msgkings March 16, 2017 at 11:56 am

At least it’s not overrated like Meryl Streep.

27 mts March 16, 2017 at 12:24 pm

This play may have required a “robot” for the role, but in general I don’t think robots will take theatrical jobs. The pleasure of seeing a play comes from seeing fallible humans doing a good job on stage. There’s always the possibility that an actor will forget a line, miss a note, fail to emote properly, or fall into the orchestra pit. Seeing a well-performed play is similar to seeing a high-wire act (albeit with smaller stakes). If the whole cast were replaced with infallible robots, one might as well stay home and watch a movie.

This ties into my personal prediction that when all “productive” jobs have been automated by robots and AIs, people will make a living providing services that wouldn’t be as pleasurable if provided by robots: acting, live music, hospitality jobs, etc.

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