Friday, February 13, 2009

imitating the inimitable.

idhren posted a few videos of wonderfully skilled new robots. we’re still quite far from terminator era, but the subtlety of moves and censors have definitely improved from even a decade ago.

as i watched the video below, i started to question my previous assumption about what made us relate to – or feel uneasy about – robots. you see, i’ve believed until recently that we’re fascinated by artificial life forms as far as they can imitate human capabilities, mental and physical, successfully, i.e. perform tasks we humans excel at, i.e. become more humanlike. so far the ability to relate in anthropomorphic terms has required an increase in the variety and number of capabilities and movement.

thus, it seems creating the ultimate robot is about perfecting a set of skills: movement, emoting and such. also from the comments idhren received, it appeared that the increasing abilities of the robots appalled people. i, on the other hand, realized that synchronized robodancing did not impress me at all: it was a performance that revealed that a subtlety of movement was not something that creates familiarity.

as i watched the robots perform their routine, it was apparent that the programming was extremely complex. however, without the human capability and tendency to err – to make mistakes and forget the routine – the show turned into something quite different from dance. dancing as a part of a synchronized group is about learning to become almost robotlike in repeating bodily movement accurately and, moreover, some of the fascination created by a performed routine derives from the successful suppression of individuality and the ability to avoid personal mistakes.

it occurred to me, and this may tell quite a bit how i relate to people in general, that we identify more with imperfection than flawlessness: robots that are programmed to move their limbs perfectly in synch do not dance. ultimately it comes down to the fact that human capability for accuracy is very limited. therefore, it might be that as long as creating a humanlike robot was about improvement, we have nothing to worry about. when we’re able to produce a machine that both acts and moves with complexity and makes embarrassing mistakes, the era of the cyborg may well be here. "errare humanum est" may well be the insight that perfects the artificial life form.

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