Robot comedy January 24, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , trackback
Here’s an interesting TEDWomen talk by Heather Knight premiering a robotic comedy routine. The robot’s name is “Data“, after the Star Trek character. The routine is not bad, containing some old jokes, and even challenges good taste a little with the “New Jersey hunters” joke. Data does a decent job and gets some laughs, although its timing could use some polish. It is not clear from the video how the robot is adjusting to its feedback, so we don’t learn much about comedy from this particular performance. No doubt more information will be coming.
(Image courtesy of Jiuguang Wang via Wikimedia Commons.)
Should we be thrilled or worried about robot entertainers? In her new book, Alone together, Sherry Turkle argues that we are starting to becoming too dependent on robots for our social relationships. The burden of the book appears to be that maintaining a relationship with a robot is too risk-free since the human half gets all the say. If we can just live in the company of robots and win all the arguments, the challenge and richness of genuine human company will become lost on us, to our detriment:
“Dependence on a robot presents itself as risk free,” Turkle writes. “But when one becomes accustomed to ‘companionship’ without demands, life with people may seem overwhelming.” A blind date can be a fraught proposition when there’s a robot at home that knows exactly what we need. And all she needs is a power outlet.
The argument is plausible as far as it goes. However, it seems to assume that people have a strong and coherent set of wants that they look to robots or others to fulfill. That may well be true in some cases, such as sexuality. However, people often are not clear about what they want and look to external sources for guidance or inspiration. A simple sexbot cannot occupy supply such a need, except in the case of particularly deficient individuals. The Mr. Data from Star Trek would be more appealing in this respect.
Anyway, the question remains: Should we be concerned about robots encroaching on human roles in the arts (and life in general), or can robots enrich human life through participation in the arts?