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which this week is presented by the robot-obsessed singer Ana Matronic.
We hear a lot about how robots might affect the future of our economy,
but they are already making a big impact on art and culture.
I'm Ana Matronic, lead singer of the Scissors Sisters,
In my edition of Artsnight, I want to explore our enduring fascination
with robots across pop culture, from music to art, fiction to film.
Right now, there's never been a more exciting time for robots.
They're becoming skilled at playing complex music
and are now adept at drawing, while one artist has even become part
With advancing technology, it seems machines are now getting
in on the act and pushing the boundaries of creativity.
Are we on the verge of an artistic robot takeover?
HARRY ROBOT: The future belongs to me!
I've been obsessed by robots ever since I first clapped eyes
on them in the movie theatre when I was not even three-years-old.
I love reading about them, I love thinking about them,
I love writing about them and, man, do I want one...
The first film I saw that sealed my love for robots was, of
Nearly 40 years on, the long awaited seventh episode, The Force Awakens,
is about to open in cinemas. It heralds the arrival of a brand new
But also the return of, officially, the most beloved
robot in movie history, R2-D2.
Resembling an industrial vacuum cleaner,
R2-D2 is a curiously endearing robot and one half of a comedy double act
C-3PO: Where do you think you're going?
C-3PO: Well, I'm not going that way.
R2: Bleep bleep.
A plucky determined character, he regularly saves the day, and
When you think of famous robots and the best there is,
I think he's the first robot with a human element to him,
He's a little robot with lots of tricks up his sleeve.
He's kind of a cheekie chappie, but also an unsung hero
I think he's kind of a little bit angry.
He wanted to do what he wanted to do,
and if the other one didn't agree, it went off on its own anyway.
Today, R2 is an icon the world over, appearing in video games
The now familiar shape of R2 was originally conceived by artist
Ralph McQaurrie and brought to life in part for the big screen by
a 3 foot 8 inch actor called Kenny Baker, operating inside a model.
Behind the scenes footage from the first film reveals how
the British special effects team built radio controlled versions
In the Force Awakens, the challenge of building
and maintaining R2 on set fell to two ordinary Star Wars fans.
This is the actual R2 from the new movie built by
the duo, amidst extreme secrecy for the biggest film release in years.
Amazingly, they were recruited from a special Star Wars fan club.
So the R2 Builders Club is a worldwide community where people
can download plans, buy parts and build an R2.
It took me five years in total to build my R2 and I was
sort of single at the time, so I didn't have any girlfriends or wives
In 2013, there was a Star Wars celebration in Essen, Germany, so in
a moment of feeling very brave, I approached Katherine Kennedy, head
of Lucasfilm, and made a comment about if they were making any films
in the UK, and if they needed any droids, get in touch.
And then, from a very cheeky comment, I was called several months
later by Lucasfilms asking if I was available to work on the new film.
It was incredible, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I really couldn't celebrate that much as I had to keep it so quiet.
My wife knew, which was fair enough, but I've got two boys, two teenage
sons, but I decided to keep it quiet from them because of school chatter.
So I had to lie to them and make up a job I was doing!
Then the first photo broke, which JJ tweeted from the workshop.
That was the moment I told the children.
The first day we got there, I was in absolute awe
of all the talent and I felt like a very small fish in a big ocean.
During their year working on the film, Oliver
and Lee built four types of R2, with different capabilities, and were
responsible for remote controlling R2's every move and action on set.
This is what we class as the indoor version.
It's got a lower profile to make him look a bit like he's floating.
So it can spin on the spot, the dome can turn independently and because
of the drive structure we can literally put a mark there and he'll
One of the biggest concerns is it's going to fail or there's going to be
a problem and there's that constant worry that they will call action
But, luckily, it never happened, R2 worked flawlessly
and it couldn't, he couldn't, have been any better at all.
I think he's just timeless really, considering he was invented in '76,
And, you look at it now, I think he's stood the test
Hopefully, he's got a few more years ahead of him, I think.
Not only do we have world famous droid movie stars, robots today
We think of the arts - from literature to music or painting
- as innately human and what sets us apart from
But in the modern age, robots are increasingly flexing
their artistic muscles, working together with musicians and
artists to create some surprising and mind blowing new works.
I've come to the London Fine Art Studios for
So you really have to imagine you're in a life drawing class.
So you are going to look in front of you.
So I think this is my best side. Patrick
Tresset is a London-based French artist who's created five artist
robots and today I'm to be their muse!
It's hard for me not to grin ear to ear
because I'm squeeing so hard inside with excitement because I'm being
This looks a the me, looks at its paper and looks up. It gives it a
sort of life to it. I can never tell whether
its going to draw an interesting Sometimes a good surprise and
sometimes less good. This looks quite nice. They have the same
programme? They're all drawing
from different angles and all have got exactly the same software, but
I've just changed something in the nervousness of the arm and something
just after the camera and that I tried to be a painter
for almost 13 years. After 13 years, I kind
of lost my passion for painting. Everything that I did didn't
look right or didn't feel right. Then I kind of remembered that I
loved programming when I was a kid and so I started to
use computers to do what I didn't After 40 minutes,
the robot artists sign their work This one is childish. He seemed
confused. He was looking up-and-down at me a lot. Oh, I almost figured as
though it would be almost like a printer. Like an ink jet pringer
that would go line byline byline and what I associate with computers. So
that is not the case, obviously. Oh, that's one's great though. This one
is quite good. That one you can actually tell is me. Definitely.
Probably because I'm a narcissist. I like the one that looks the most
like me! So, Patrick, do I get to leave
with one of these today? I mean,
they are part of a bigger artwork so they are all kept, but what I do
is that I scan them and send them. It's not just in the world
of fine art that robots are flexing their creative muscles,
it's happening in music too. One of my favourite artists,
Tom Jenkinson - better known as Squarepusher -
has been at the cutting edge Recently, he composed an album
specially for a robot band, created I've come to meet Tom in his Essex
studio to find out more How your interest in this project
came about? I was approached by some Japanese robotists and they wanted
me to make a piece of music for their robot band to play. I couldn't
pass up that opportunity. It's not the sort of thing that happens every
day. I just had to see what that would be like. The Z machine
machines have a 22 armed drummer, a guitarist with 78 fingers and a
keyboardist that plays notes by shooting green lasers from its eyes.
Sad robot goes funny was the fist piece you composed for Z Machines.
You are composing for a 78-fingered guitarist. What it means is that you
could, for example, make chords that have a larger span than a normal
human hand could achieve. Also, the speed at which the notes can be
played, I mean, you can play over 100 notes a second. That is pretty
quick. I'm sure there are guitarists out there who would claim they can
do it. It can do it and do it consistently and doesn't get tired
it. Keeps going. It generates a particular kind sound that isn't
possible with human hands. I would imagine that composing for robots
you had a very specific place that you would want to go musically. I
wonder whethered we could make robots perform music that would be
for a listener emotionally involving.
I personally find it at points quite convincing actually.
I also encountered a sense of disappointment amongst some
people that when you tell them it's a robot playing.
It's like, oh wow, I thought it was an incredible
guitar player, this unbelievable, this super human technique
and then when you tell them it's a robot, then they actually become,
I always think that music and performing live is such
a human endeavour and so much to me lies in the idea of communication.
And it seems to me that even if we bring robots in, we'll still need
Yeah, but what's interesting, I think,
is that we're already augmenting our human performance with machinery.
I mean, if you come to one of my shows, for better or
I mean I'm playing a guitar, but it's not a guitar as you know it.
It's going through any number of different processes.
But there's other elements where there is no touch of human hand
And the fascinating thing I think is,
that I can be on the stage and yet everything that people are hearing
is generating by machines, the performance is done by the machine.
I'm just kind of babysitting the machines, and that's
And yet we can't let go of the human, because
if you took that supervisor away, no matter how superficial their job
If you take that away, suddenly it's not music performance anymore.
I look forward to hearing more from you and possibly some more
I would like some robot back up dancers, that's what I would like.
As robots get more sophisticated, one way forward is
for us humans to enhance our own abilities through technology.
I've been worshipping at the altar of all things bionic,
But inking your shoulder with computer circuitry is one thing,
actually becoming part machine quite another.
That's exactly what British born artist Neil Harbisson has done,
Neil Harbisson is officially the world's first cyborg artist
having had a technological device surgically implanted into his skull.
It's allowing him to create some unusual new art works.
I want to ask Neil about his decision to become a cyborg -
and it seems only fitting that we'll be using technology to communicate.
You are the first cyborg I am ever meeting so I am totally jazzed.
So Neil, tell me how this came about?
Well, I was born with an unusual visual condition called
acromatism, which is total colour blindness, so I see things
But I wanted to have a sense of colour.
So the only way of creating a new sense
So what I have now is this antenna implanted in my skull that allows
Exactly how does that work, how does it transmit the sound?
So the tip of the antenna has a light detector that detects the
And it transmits into a chip inside my skull that vibrates
So this vibration in my bone becomes a sound in my inner ear,
How has that changed your perception or your life?
At the beginning I had strong headaches
and I was really exhausted because I could hear colour everywhere.
So I was in a music composition constantly
But after five months it all became very, very normal.
When I actually felt cyborg was when I stopped feeling the difference
And this happened when I started to dream in colours.
And how has the antenna influenced and shaped your
Well, the antenna now allows me to, to express myself
from a new sense basically, which is the sonochromatic sense:
the sound of colour and the colour of sound.
Instead of playing an instrument, I can now play colours.
I can give colour concerts where instead of a piano I can just have
different coloured objects in front of me and then I amplify
And then I can create melodies with different coloured objects.
I can also do this with people's faces to create face concerts.
I started doing this in 2005 when Prince Charles came to
the university and he asked me, what is this?
And I explained this is an antenna to hear colours, and then I asked
That was the first sound portrait I did.
So I guess the next question is, not how do I
So your hair sounds F, a very high pitched F, and then
your lips sound F too, but it's a different scale of F, it's a low F.
If you could get close so I can hear the sound of your eyes.
It's a microtone between C and B
That's a chord, a unique musical chord.
Yes, so hearing colours has the secondary effect that when I
hear music or I hear sounds I can also paint this on a canvas.
And you have some paintings behind you.
Yes, there are several, this is New York New York.
From the first note to the last, so "start spreading
So it's note by note from the centre to the end.
So now I can listen to different artists.
For example, Andy Warhol sounds very loud.
Whereas Velasquez sounds very disturbing, sounds a bit
You should score a horror movie with paintings.
I''d be fantastic. And are you a Wi-Fi enabled hotspot?
I see it as a communication tool, as a sense.
And I think this is the next stage of internet that we
I hope you become a cyborg soon as well!
Cyborgs have long been represented in science fiction, as has
The question is, just how close are we to realising the kind
of sophisticated and clever mechanical people we've
Scientist and broadcaster Adam Rutherford, who worked
as an advisor on this year's AI hit film Ex Machina, is off to sort
In 2015, we saw a slew of blockbuster films and TV series
These portray lifelike machines with human-level consciousness
Now, this set of films are not like science fiction of the past
which were set in some distant future or a galaxy far, far away.
They present a vision of a future that's just
Chappie is a subversive romp of a film in
which a droid is reprogrammed to think and feel for itself.
Meanwhile in the dark and thought-provoking film from Alex
Garland, Ex Machina, we encounter the beautiful humanoid robot Ava.
A young coder sent to test Ava's human level intelligence
and consciousness is soon firmly in her thrall.
And in the recent hit TV series Humans, we are sold a vision
of robots that can be picked up as easily as your weekend shop
But some of these synths exhibit human like feelings and it's not
long before the real humans are forming deep relationships with
Hello Joe, I'm now securely bonded to you as my primary user.
So what's the truth behind the fiction?
Are we really that close to seeing human-like robots
I've come to visit a house in the Hertfordshire suburbs that is
Now admittedly, care-obot here doesn't
look quite as one might expect from the Hollywood movies.
But it's typical of where current technology is
at when it comes to robots designed to help around the home.
And thanks to a team at the University of Hertfordshire,
it's currently on a crash course in social interaction with humans!
Professor of Artificial Intelligence Kerstin Dautenhahn is in charge
Kerstin, so we're in this suburban house, but it's got robots in it.
When we started we did human robot interaction studies
You see when they come in, and it look like a normal house from
better. We equipped it with robots, lots of sensors, and lots of
technology, but it's still more similar to a normal home that you
We see a lot of robots in films, with artificial
How do they affect people's expectations about what real world
robots are actually like and what they are capable of?
Science fiction movies have a huge impact.
So for example, people think that robots, of course,
can not only think, not only have the AI as human beings
too, but they can also do lots of physical tasks very, very easily.
It should not be difficult for a robot to load and unload the
dishwasher or fold clothing, but teaching this to robot is a very,
very hard. As well as carrying out studies with
Care-o-bot - to assist elderly people
in the home - Kerstin's team has built a humanoid robot called Kaspar
to help children with autism. It would be disingenuous
of me not to point out he's pretty A lot of adults who see him
for the first time give exactly that Kaspar doesn't have
a complex real human face. It's simplified in a way
so that children with autism can Kaspar has several
autonomous behaviours. They are, for example,
triggered by touch senses. So let me just try to tickle
its feet. So these are all little,
simple games, but for a child with autism, these simple games help them
understand the basic principles. Because in the real world,
it's so complex that it's difficult for them to concentrate
on the fundamental things that are important, but they can do it when
they interact with such a robot. So how long is it going to be
before we see multi-tasking And how long is it going to be
before we see, you know, proper androids,
the kind that we see in the movies? It is still a big challenge but I
would expect in five to ten years time to see these systems in
people's homes - maybe not of the complexity of the ones you see in
science fiction, but in the sense of a system that can do a variety of
tasks very well in order to help. When it comes to the science-fiction
robots, the androids, from a technological point of view, we are
talking about hundreds of years will stop.
And I think we are certainly talking about hundreds
of years to see these wonderful, versatile, human-like robots that
are shown in the movies and that are almost undistinguishable
That's all from me and my new best friend here.
Well, the fourth named storm of the season
is bearing down upon us overnight and into tomorrow,