David V. Lu!!
Photo Credit: Dan Lazewatsky

A Play Starring Geminoid

The Gemenoid F, a newest model of the realistic looking android by Hiroshi Ishiguro, has taken to the stage recently in a new play in Japan. The play, called “Sayonara” or “Goodbye” in English, is about a girl with a fatal illness. Her parents buy her a robot companion and then abandon her with it. Further details about the plot are a bit sketchy. Without more details, I don’t feel too comfortable saying whether the use of the android was justified.

However, what I will comment on is whether the android was ready for this job. The android was controlled by an operator backstage whose motions were translated into robot actions. Her voice was also used in the robot. However, the robot doesn’t perform actions the way a human would. Watching the video below, the robot’s motions seem very robotic, that is to say, jerky and sudden.

My question continues to be, what takes this beyond novelty? Is it enough to just put a robot in a play? Or should there, as I would maintain, be some sort of actual scientific contribution, some novel algorithm, that makes putting a robot on stage more than a normal interaction with the robot except the other person’s lines are known beforehand?

I’ve included Ishiguro’s work as a citation in a couple papers now, but I always end up citing news articles about the play, nothing originating from Ishiguro himself, because he doesn’t have any papers out on the theatre work he’s done. The cynical part of me, looking for a reason why he does these plays, turns to the something said by the director of this play, and their previous collaboration, Oriza Hirata.

“Hirata said androids are not only good actors but also great for boosting ticket sales. About 600 people were expected to watch the play over a two-day Tokyo run.”

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