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Are robots to be loved?

Do robots have emotions? Can WE have emotions for nuts and bolts beyond "it so cute!" - There's some magic that happens in movies that we believe we can replicate in real life. The silence of sound!

10 months ago

Latest Post 30 years and counting by Victoria Esposito public

You don’t know what you don’t know

The history of Robots starts way before any of you would think it started. When we say robot, nowadays, we think of some kind of terminator or Jarvis helpful companion. However, you would be surprised that the first robot was born in 1948.

British robotics pioneer William Grey Walter invented robots Elmer and Elsie that mimic lifelike behavior using elementary electronics in 1948. They were tortoise-like robots that were programmed to find their charging stations once they started running low on power.

In 1954 George Devol invented the first digitally operated and programmable robot called the Unimate. In 1956, Devol and his partner Joseph Engelberger formed the world's first robot company. In 1961, the first industrial robot, Unimate, went online in a General Motors automobile factory in New Jersey.

When you look at the timeline of the first robot till these days, you will be very impressed with how long this companion for life has been around. If you prefer a more navigational experience, have a look at this Prezi.

What makes a robot

Just like in any language, the meaning that we associate with a term depends on the cultural context of the time. The Wikipedia definition of a robot is something along the lines of

A robot is an autonomous machine capable of sensing its environment, carrying out computations to make decisions, and performing actions in the real world.

But if you ask John Doe about what is a robot, you will likely hear an association to Terminator or Wall-e or any other movie. In the extreme case of the examples, you will hear some references to the news where a robot was mimicking human behavior.

As Elon Musk pointed out a few days ago, freaky. Take a look

If you are curious about having a read at this article from The Verge.

We believe that at some point robots will become an integral part of our lives and we will be interacting with them in the same fashion today we do with pets. Some pets are little shits and others are cuddle mongers, nonetheless, we keep them around and we condition our lives around them.

Therefore, it is inevitable that at some point our own understanding of the word robot will be once again adapting. The major shift will happen from thinking of utility robots to companions.

I don’t anticipate any of us in current times to establish an emotional relationship with this type of Robot that is currently assembling my Tesla.

And instead, it is more likely that you will be making the same faces and weird sounds that we make to babies when we express our love, to a robot like this one.​

Just like among humans we establish a natural bond with some while totally wanting to pin against the wall others. Among all the cute ones we will have preferences, not just for what they do for us but also for how they make us feel.

Emotions

There are many robot movies out there. Some are really terrible where the review system should allow negative stars, some are majestic and really a piece of art.

When it comes to the love affair, being a sophisticated droid or the hottest human being that you can think of, it is all subjective and very much depends on the mood. If you don’t believe me, ask my husband before and after a night out. #truestory

This is the first article of a short series where we are going to dig into the choices that some videographers and directors make in transferring those emotions from the 2D world of a cold, senseless, often expensive tv set to your brain. That ultimately convinces your heart and lungs to some extent (breathless) that that robot on the screen is almost human.

Body Parts

My brother Jeff when we were kids was taking apart my dolls like an autopsy gone wrong, so when I talk about body parts for robots I don’t mean the nuts and bolts and gears. But I mean what contributes to expressing, with the power of background sounds, an emotion to the viewer.

And to really appreciate what this means, I want to walk you through a few clips of movies where we are going to take the sound away and then restore it back to its original. You will immediately notice that if you do remember the scene, your brain will fill the blanks. If you haven’t seen the movie for a while, you will immediately be struck by the blunt feeling of “nothing to feel here”.

The strength of the bond in movies depends on the sound intensity

Each part of every robot is followed by some kind of technological sound to enhance the character bonding with the viewer.

Eyes tend to have more telescopic sound when they are extending or retracting. And when they focus they have an aperture sound when they are focusing. The same applies to other body parts like walking or using tracks or floating.

Finch

In the movie Finch there are two robots, one is called Dewey and the other Jeff. The latter becomes the star of the movie, besides the majestic Tom Hanks, of course. Praise to the Lord for giving us from desert islands to the most futuristic robot there’s today, Tom.

available on Apple TV+

Like pets but better

Our pets, although we wish they could, can’t speak our language. The same applies to some robots. This means that in the context of movies and also real life. We need some replacement for what otherwise is carried by words. Sounds!

If the robot is sad and moves his head toward the floor without making any noise you will feel less sorry for it. But the right sounds followed with the precise motion will give you empathy for what the robot would be otherwise sharing. It’s no different from your cat meowing at you when they want a treat or go outside hunting lizards. I see you, Scarlet!

Take a look at this and judge by yourself.

Finch is removing Dewey's eyes
Afterward, Dewey looks towards the floor displaying sadness

At some point, in the movie, Tom is removing the eye bulb from Dewey to insert into what is going to be Jeff. Naturally, Dewey is worried and he’s showing that and the director has paid attention to the sounds he makes in communicating his sadness and general mood.

There are three things to unpack here:

Tom’s connection to Dewey is not different from the relationship that he has with his dog, the key difference is the bond. He’s thinking of Dewey as a dog but he treats IT as a robot. Meaning the robot displays feelings, Tom displays the power of control. He would never display that to his dog because he equates the dog to a human.

That dynamic will change and I don’t want to spoil the outcome to whoever out there has not seen this amazing piece of art of entertainment. Nonetheless, the vision we have for the robots of the future and for this movement is for now and forever validated.

Next time we will take a look at how the same dynamics, sound concepts, and motioning applies to the voice of robots that attempt to express their feelings to humans.

What does this mean for us?

Our first bot, VIKI, will have to have sounds for the eye’s movements but only when someone looks at HER. Yes, our first bot will be a girl and as my friend Debby put it, sassy too!

She will have sounds for when she blinks, looks confused, or when she’s happy. I anticipate days when she will be old enough to be by the mirror, discovering makeup and making all sorts of silly expressions while she tries things on.

Until then, have a nice day and remember to have a moment for yourself like there’s no tomorrow. Be good to yourself, bLife with everyone you fancy.

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Victoria Esposito

Published 10 months ago