Shakespeare and Robots

A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Mechanical cast members

The video above features a special performance of a Shakespearean classic put on by Texas A&M University several years ago. The students and professors involved in the production thought this would be a great way to see how people respond to and interact with robots.

Presently, there are quite a number of studies which are investigating human-robot relationships. The recently completed European project SERA (Social Engagement with Robots and Agents ), aimed to advance the social acceptability of robots by collecting data on real-life, long-term relationships of subjects with robotic devices. A current European project, LIREC (Living with Robots and Artificial Companions), is also geared towards investigating social interaction with robots yet, some scientists suggest we look elsewhere than the lab for clues on how to improve our experiences with robots….

Literature, theatre and film portray a vast array of human relationships.  An Immortal literary icon like Shakespeare was an expert in unraveling the many aspects of human behaviour. Similarly, today’s roboticists have become very interested in picking apart the smaller components of human interactions in order to make our future experiences with robots as comfortable and natural as possible. From operas to poetry, artistic productions expose all sorts of human relationships in great detail but how can we extract useful information from such works and apply it to robotics?

Researchers from the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Vienna, Austria suggest we do the following:

First, identify relevant scenes from various media. This could include anything from Greek tragoidia to modern day classics like metropolis and ET, however they suggest selected scenes be centred around characters which are engaged in a servant-master relationship. Those scenes would then be carefully analysed; identifying who does what, when and looking at the reactions that ensue. Next, they recommend different types of behaviours be categorized. This could result in categories of behaviours that are important to consider for robot demeanor but may otherwise be left out of conventional psychological typologies ( for example unobtrusiveness). Finally, this information should be integrated into existing personality models for humanoid robots.

For more information on this, you may want to have a look at the paper: Robots as Companions: What can we Learn from Servants and Companions in Literature, Theater, and Film? This paper is part of the proceedings from FET 11  (the European Future Technologies Conference and Exhibition 2011) which also featured Robot Companions for Citizens as one of the 2011 Flagship Initiatives.

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