Sunday, 19 August 2012

Robot Story

As is the case in many large cities, in Taipei there's always something to do, especially in these summer months when the children are off school. Our difficulty lies in deciding which event, place or course to attend.

Last week we plumped for an exhibition on the history of robots currently being held at Sun Yat Sen Hall, just down the road from the 101 building:

Incorporating both the factual history of the development of robots as well as their depiction in films and cartoons, it was easy to see how this could be a popular exhibition for school-age children. And so it proved to be.

When we arrived we were immediately redirected from the start of the exhibition to a later stage, where the latest design in performance robots was about to put on a show. We saw the Robot Thespian singing, dancing and taking requests from the audience. It was highly entertaining and challenged the concept that the purpose of robots is to perform tasks too boring or difficult for humans.

This robot was fluent in both English and Mandarin, which is more than I can say for myself at the moment.

It was also a better dancer.

Robots from fiction were well-represented. I recognised robots from The Terminator, The Matrix, Transformers and, of course, one of the earliest fictional robots, the character known only as 'Robot' in Lost in Space. Here are some of them:

This is one of the earliest fictional robots- the false Maria from the 1927 German science fiction film Metropolis.

But it wasn't all wandering around and looking at exhibits. The children could participate too.

One of the most popular exhibits was a dance video game where the children had to mimic dance movements to gain points. The characters demonstrating the dance moves were unlikely but well known.

Yes, that really is Han Solo.

The most interesting exhibit for me was the toy dinosaur robot, but not because of the robot itself, though it was ingenious. It was the reactions of the children.

This robot was programmed to behave like a pet. It would approach and move its body and head as though it wanted to be petted and stroked, and the children loved it. They were jostling for a position to tickle, stroke and play with it, as gently and carefully as if the robot were a living thing. It was so popular it was actually difficult to get any good shots.

It seemed to demonstrate how instinctively we respond to certain behaviours regardless of what thing is displaying them, whether it's living or artificial. As long as robots behave like humans or animals, we can't help but react to them as if they really are.

As well as being entertaining and informative, the exhibition provided much food for thought.

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