BlabDroid: Robots in Residence
Robots in Residence, the world’s first documentary shot and directed entirely by pre-programmed robots, will attempt to forge a new form of documentary storytelling and in doing so experimentally test MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum’s infamous “Eliza effect” which is “the tendency to unconsciously assume computer (i.e. pre-programmed) behaviors are analogous to human behaviors.” “I had not realized,” Weizenbaum later noted” that extremely short exposures to a relatively simple computer program could induce powerful delusional thinking in quite normal people.” We shall see.
International Documentary Film Festival, DocLab
Tribeca Film Festival, Storyscapes
New York, New York, USA
My personal favorite may be “Robots in Residence,” because it involves cute little robots. One of them was on display when I visited the Storyscapes… Brent Hoff, a filmmaker who was sitting at the “Robots in Residence” residence—at the time of my visit, still only a table on which sat what appeared to be a corrugated box of the sort one might use to send a friend a fruitcake through the U.S. Mail, though this one had a lens, wheels and buttons—explained that this was to be “the first documentary directed entirely by robots.”
Humans are involved, however, in that they need to shepherd the bots about, and confess their thoughts and feelings to them every so often. “People say anything to artificial intelligence,” he added.
I’ll have to take his word for it, my own relationships with artificial intelligence thus far being rather limited. Though, come to think of it, were the definition expanded to devices such as automated telephone receptionists, upon which I’ve been know to release a flood of invective, he may have a point. -Ralph Gardner
“Robots in Residence,” will be used to make a postfestival documentary, although one of its directors, Alexander Reben, is really in it for the interactivity. The project is based on his master’s thesis, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about the relationships between robots and people. His co-director, Brent Hoff, is more the bona fide filmmaker; Mr. Reben’s interest is in how Tribeca audiences will deal with robots that are calculated to be cute.
“A lot of the dimensions are based on the ratios of a baby’s heads and eyes and that sort of thing,” he said. “Cuteness triggers many effects on the brain, and by making the robot look cute, it seems more vulnerable.” He said that a few years ago, during the testing phase at M.I.T., a runner from the Boston Marathon encountered one of the robots. The runner, unable to return home to Germany because of the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, wound up “spilling his guts,” Mr. Reben said. “He seemed to want to talk to someone.” – John Anderson
Created by artist and roboticist Alex Reben for his master’s thesis at MIT, the BlabDroids are tiny, adorable robotic cinematographers who will be filming interviews at this week’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York as part of the the film festival’s transmedia Storyscapes program. At least 20 BlabDroids will zip around to attendees–they’re self-propelled via motorized wheels– and ask them often very personal questions like, “Tell me something that you’ve never told a stranger before,” “What’s the worst thing you’ve done to someone,” and “Who do you love most in the world?” -Angela Watercutter