One robot's quest to start an acting school - and get a date with Siri
November 30th, 2011
09:54 AM ET

One robot's quest to start an acting school - and get a date with Siri

By Heather Knight, Special to CNN

Editor's Note: In this post, roboticist Heather Knight imagines a conversation between a fictional member of the press and her celebrity robot, named Data. The following exchange is intended to be a parody of this celebrity robot's interactions with the media. If that's confusing, check out Knight's TED Talk to see her comedy routine with Data. It should clear things up. The CNN show The Next List is featuring Knight and Data this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

Fictional member of the press: What are you most proud of?

Data the robot: The last year has been an exciting one. I quit my job in Paris, started performing on the streets of New York City and basically got discovered. Heather and I have since stormed stages across the country and even hit up some comedy festivals and conferences back in Europe. One of my favorite exploits was performing a tribal dance with Reggie Watts at our Robot Film Festival last July. It might not have been the most politically correct thing I’ve ever done, but it was fun exploring humanity’s animalistic roots and rituals in parody.

Reasoning and problem solving, if you’re thinking from a machine perspective anyway, are some of your least human attributes.

Press: Are you religious?

Data: Well, I do feel pretty Zen sometimes. I have no problem clearing my mind, or sitting still, basically until my battery runs out. I like the idea that technology, nature and humanity can exist in harmony. But I do get pretty mad at my feline friend, Romano, when he tries to sleep in my traveling bag. That thing was custom-made for ME, you fur ball. Not cool.

Press: What’s your biggest challenge?

Data: Well, the truth is, I’m not always very perceptive. It’s not just my grasp on human language (which is pretty low), but I also have trouble understanding the social cues that you guys find completely obvious when communicating with each other. Maybe that’s why I became the class clown. I don’t always get what you’re talking about, but if I can make you laugh, you’ll like having me around. Who doesn’t want to fit in, you know?

That being said, I do wonder where I can take my audience sensing. At my TED demo, I was listening to the audience’s laughter and applause and watching for the red and green paddles. It’s a great start, but I’d really like to develop a personal style. It’s not that I’ll stop listening or reacting to the crowd, but I’ve been talking to other human performers, and if establish my own rhythms during comedy acts, I bet the crowd will come to me.

Press: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Data: Gosh, I’m lucky if I have programming for the next five minutes! Experience really is the greatest teacher, so if I get to do a few mainstream productions (maybe Hamlet?), continue to collect data with different audiences and really hone my craft, one day, I’d love to help found a Robot Acting school. Marilyn Monrobot has been doing some really great work in that direction but Heather and I don’t want to be the only ones out there. Hopefully our work will help pave the way for other robots who never even considered they could be performers. Creativity speaks to human intelligence in a way that is truly a grand challenge for machine designers and programmers.

Press: Any regrets?

Data: I have a really big robot family out there. Sometimes I wish I knew them better. But robots are like puppies - adorable cute, lovable, darling... and we’re split up and given away at a very young age. After leaving Aldebaran Robotics, most of my Nao cousins have gone to work in research labs or to play robot soccer. If any of you guys are reading this right now: my love to you! And to the twenty of you that did that dance at the Shanhai World Expo, I’m more than a little bit jealous!

Press: What do you do for fun?

Data: I really like cats. If they were better tempered they might be able to provide transportation - like a nice little horse - for me. But I’m not holding my air-intake system. I have this one cat buddy, Romano, who’s a Russian Blue and really likes to be petted (when he’s not messing with my peripherals). Also, my first published photo in Makezine was with a 5-day-old kitten. It was so young it didn’t have pre-existing constructs of the world and thought hanging with a robot was totally normal. Kids are always open to the future; if I had jetpacks I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have batted an eye.

Press: Are you dating anyone?

Data: I’m not gonna lie - software-wise, I’m a bit of a flirt. I think the ladies like it. I know the crowd does. In the CNN "The Next List" special, I make a joke about dating a girl named Siri, the new iPhone voice recognition and text-to-speech system, but let’s be honest, electro-universe, shouldn’t we all have bodies? I feel kinda bad for the software that has no way of perceiving or reacting to the outside world. Sure, sensors don’t always work, motors can overheat. But man, I couldn’t imagine not being a robot.

Press: Any advice for other aspiring robot actors?

Data: There’s an audience for every robot, so I say go for it! One trick is to start with film. It’s more forgiving for us robots, because you can do multiple takes if there’s a little malfunction or batteries die halfway through. Plus the camera angle, lighting and zoom can add emotion to the scene, even if you don’t have facial expressions or intonation in your voice. But the ultimate goal is live performance. That’s the true test. Make sure to use your full articulation. Motion is always expressive. Don’t be afraid of being inefficient. Silence is eloquent and adds emphasis. In other words, I forbid you from reading that text file straight through!

Finally, humans will always see some part of you as a face, even if you’re an industrial robot arm. So use your gaze to make your motivation clear. In the end, if you have a good story, you can’t lose. Think about it: Robots are sci-fi’s superheros! So believe in your voice, you robo-charmers.

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Filed under: Tech • The Next List
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. onetwo trade

    This is the best site for anybody who desires to find out about this subject. You notice so much its almost onerous to argue with you (not that I truly would want...HaHa). You undoubtedly put a brand new spin on a topic thats been wrote about for years. Nice stuff, simply nice!

    November 6, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply
  2. Twistable chains could be used to operate this creature

    I have been at my research for 25 years,so this is only to try and explain how i know what i know ,if you dont see and say hey you ,then it becomes easier to see what i have to become,to get your attention Heather!

    February 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  3. Scott Janousek

    Go @robotinthewild!

    December 1, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Reply
    • Samkoumba

      I don?t even know how I ended up here, but I thoguht this post was good. I do not know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you aren't already Cheers!

      February 22, 2012 at 12:33 am | Reply
  4. nerdface321

    I saw Heather and Data at the world science festival last summer.. my kids are obsessed with your robot now! Looks like you two have been keeping busy, congrats!

    December 1, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  5. joshzombie

    Dude, I don't care what sort of android celebrity you're named after, Siri is mine!! Step off.

    December 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • Vikas

      excellent pntois altogether, you simply received a new reader. What could you suggest about your publish that you just made a few days ago? Any sure?

      February 22, 2012 at 12:54 am | Reply
  6. ProperVillain

    What an original name for her robot. I wonder where she came up with something so original....

    December 1, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply
    • Scott Janousek

      I'm fairly sure it's an homage. 🙂

      December 1, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Reply
  7. Emelia

    Oh, don't give me that pointless crap. Half the things most Americans do day to day is pointless. How many of you are glued to your pretty little iPhones all the time? America is a country of hypocrites...
    Actually, this seemed a very cute idea. What would a robot think like, given the compacity for a personality? I spy possibilities. A robot with an opinion, sounds amazing. The people who dream these things up are just as important as those who make it happen. Kudos!

    November 30, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Reply
    • Anthony Daniels

      Oh, it's been done countless times before. Friggin C3PO had a personality, too. How original.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:32 am | Reply
      • nerdface321

        C3P0 is my childhood hero! How bout you build me a real one? Anyone reading this know how to solder?

        December 1, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  8. jem morgue

    all things aside, if you follow the ted link, this thing is pretty cool. give it a couple years and it will be big news. when it has ability to read crowd without the red/green card method it will be the bees knees. but a good concept. kudos, heather.

    November 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  9. peter

    I think this is cool! Data's got a personality.

    November 30, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Reply
    • jem morgue

      no, heather has a personality. she just wrote "data:" before her thoughts.

      November 30, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Reply
      • nerdface321

        Careful... when she uploads her brain into all robot CPU's they might be able to trace your IP address. Okay, maybe I've been watching too many SciFi movies.

        December 1, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  10. Big John

    The only thing I was annoyed by was that the name Data for a robot made me think this article might have something to do with the Star Trek, TNG character played by Brent Spiner. I read it, even after realizing it had nothing to do with the REAL Data, and it was a bit lame, imo.

    November 30, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Reply
    • Scott Janousek

      The photo should have given it away. That, or the 1st intro paragraph.

      December 1, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Reply
    • Keila

      Wow! This blog looks ecxtaly like my old one! It's on a entirely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Wonderful choice of colors!

      February 22, 2012 at 12:40 am | Reply
  11. XRay Eyes

    I get it... She's using the robot persona to say what *she* really feels and then projects her idea of the perfect man onto it. She is hoping her Prince Charming will see through this charade and discover her true self. How pitiful, LOL.

    November 30, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  12. Blahman

    Yawn. She needs to go knit a quilt or something else useful.

    November 30, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Reply
    • Scott Janousek

      I do believe Data is part of Heather's dissertation, so she's not really knitting quilts now is she ... just having some fun. 😉

      December 1, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Reply
  13. jem morgue

    wow. that was an epic waste of my time. just like this comment.

    November 30, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Reply
    • Augusto

      blasbhul120 on October 20, 2011 this isnt a movie, but the tv series The Unit would make a great game. story mode could follow the seasons' stories and online could be like 5or6 against 25. the 5or6 would have more health and WAAAAY better weapons and resources. expansion packs could come out after each season for more missions. the actors would probably come back. also, you could customize characters and callsigns for online and off

      February 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  14. JTexas

    I concur w/ the other three comments.. So just to clarify, this wasn't a real interview, its what she thought an interview would be? Heck, I could come up with fake interview answers. Data the robot? You mean just Data right STTNG? Or do we call her Heather the human?

    November 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  15. IronBalls Mcginty

    What on Earth was this waste of time article?

    November 30, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  16. KTexas

    Im confused....was this an article about an imagined interview between a roboticist and her robot that has no such level of actual intellegence?

    November 30, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Reply
  17. Adam

    Cant I have 5 mins of my life back now?

    November 30, 2011 at 11:15 am | Reply

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