Back to the future

Will robots have a sense of humor? Will robots be able to create art? Do you dream of living forever in the form of a robot? Could you ever fall in love with a robot?

These are four of 12 questions relating to the human future shared with robots raised by French artist Yves Gellie. And alumni and students from Hong Kong Baptist University have responded to them through creative work.

Exploring the relationships between AI, ethics, and the public good in the age of robots, the university will host The Age of Robots exhibition at TriAngle in Shaw campus from Thursday to November 16.

The exhibition features Gellie’s videos and photographs, while alumni and students will present works inspired by Gellie during the opening of the exhibition.

Many questions have been raised during public discourse about the role of robots, and there has been much speculation and fear regarding the arrival of the machines.

However, humans have a dependency on humanoid robots that is often overlooked. For all the talk of the disruption AI and robots may bring, what is less discussed is how robots offer hope for solutions to long-held weaknesses such as disease, aging, and loneliness.

In his work, Gellie draws attention to the fact that humans tend to attribute sensitivity to humanoid robots – an ability to empathize with human needs and weaknesses – which can be seen in the video White Room.

In it, an old woman knocks down two pins with a bowling ball under the guidance and encouragement of a robot and was corrected by it when she picked up a pin for throwing. Toward the end, when the old woman is tired, the robot says to her: “Let’s take a break.”

The video breaks the routine of giving instructions to a robot and inverts the position of humans and robots, which inspired students at the university.

“Due to advanced technology, nowadays, robots have evolved to an advanced level,” said Anthony Hau Yu-kin, a graduate of the department of music.

“They can give dialogue responses with people on different topics; give instructions to people who are engaged in difficult tasks. That is a humanizing transformation.”

Inspired by the video, he created a quartet piece, Humanization, describing the scenery from it. The interaction between the robot and the human is emphasized strongly, together with a warm and peaceful atmosphere. The piece ends with a three-note quotation of the sound of the robot saying, “un, deux, trois” – the French words for “one, two, three.”

You Whisper, I Answer, another new song created by an another music graduate from the university, Bonnie Yung Sin-kan, discusses the simplicity of communication that is being lost in this modern age of technology.

“We sometimes forget how effective simple communication can really be – physical touch, eye contact, a smile, together with simple language,” said Yung.

“When verbal communication is limited, they can come together in a more meaningful conversation than a paragraph full of embellishment.”

Students from the department of humanities and creative writing have responded to Gellie’s questions by writing poetry and a diary that describes loneliness and the robot’s inner desire to be cared for, while students from the European Studies department wrote a story, in French, of a robotic revolt and their eventual reconciliation with human beings to fight for civil rights.

Accompanying the exhibition, The Robot Empathy and Human Vulnerability forum will be held on November 2, seeking to explore the important field of social robotics, with an emphasis on artificial empathy and human empathy, which are also responses to Gellie’s questions.

Chow Yiu-fai, lyricist and associate professor in the department of humanities and creative writing, wrote in singer Kay Tse’s new song 773312: An Urban Fantasy: “kiss me, give me life, love me, and teach me to love.”

Focusing on the imagined interiority and voice of a robot, the song will be performed live at the forum.

(This article was published at The Standard on October 29, 2019: Education: Back to the future )

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