Future Threat? Robots Grabbing Spotlight

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Robot performersMost robots popularized in early sci-fi fiction stories or 1950s “B” movies were scary creations bent on destroying our world. Today, in contrast, real robots hold promise for improving our world as helpers. Rather than finding this evolution a source of comfort, some people consider it threatening. If robots can replicate certain human tasks, maybe good-paying jobs will be lost. Robots might become too smart and turn the tables on us humans. Where could this all lead?

Cute Co-Stars. For a minute, forget the robots assembling your future car or perhaps the robo-barista preparing your next iced coffee…What about robot performers onstage? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds:

  • In Berlin, a child-size robot named Myon co-starred with humans in an opera titled “My Square Lady.” In exploring the differences between humans and machines, Myon reprises the role of Eliza Doolittle from “My Fair Lady”, the commoner who is acclimated to high society.
  • In New York, seven toddler-size robots danced with eight humans in “ROBOT” – a dramatic creation at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. According to the New York Times, the show’s highlight was a touching scene where dancer Gael Rougegrez teaches a robot to walk.

Blurred Lines. By blurring the lines between human and machine, both these productions inspire discussion. According to a CNET article, the producers of the Berlin opera want audiences to consider these questions: What makes a person a person? How could an object or simple life form be transformed into one? What are emotions and why do we need them? Does a robot need them too?

Extending Range. If these two productions point to a far-off future, today’s business headlines describe robots’ expanding role in industry. From the same CNET article:

“Historically…we thought robots would do things that were the three D’s: dangerous, dirty, and dull,” explains Ryan Calo, professor at University of Washington School of Law with an expertise in robotics. “Over time, the range of things that robots can do has extended.”

Indeed, the technology research firm Gartner predicts that one-third of current jobs will be replaced by robots, smart machines and software by 2025.

Creativity Triumphs. According to Gartner, the jobs least likely to see encroachment by robots are those requiring judgment, creativity and human interaction – all key elements of many performing arts jobs. Whether onstage or behind the scenes, many of these jobs are rooted in creativity and human interaction. A live concert, play or ballet is not about productivity or efficiency – things robots do well – but rather spontaneity and creating emotional connections among performers and the audience.

In the two robot productions cited above, for example, humans clearly triumph. Myon the robot performer comes to an ignominious end, dismantled on stage with his components passed around by the human performers. In the dance show, robots never can master walking and continue toppling over, much to the delight of the audience.

Your View? Would you pay to watch robots perform? Projecting into the future…Will robots ever buy tickets to watch you?


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