Android Theater & The Uncanny Valley
Last night, during the ‘blizzard,’ I went to the Japan Society to see the first play featuring an android actor. The Seinendan Theater Company and Osaka University Robot Theater Project are currently touring with two one act plays: “Sayonara” and “I, Worker.” Both written and directed by Oriza Hirata expressly for the android and robots featured in the plays.
In discussing robots and androids, we often encounter discussions about the “uncanny” and drawing from Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori’s work a more specific version, the “Uncanny Valley.” In watching Sayonara, I didn’t have an experience of the uncanny, the android was very life-like, but not too much so. Not enough to be uncanny, nor enough to pass for human. However as I was sitting in the front row, I did experience a creepy sense of the uncanny when Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro came out and sat in front of me for a question and answer session.
I had seen him before, but not as a human. I had seen the android he had built based on himself. Seeing his human-self sitting there in front of me I was driven to examine him carefully and look for signs of humanity. I watched him more carefully and examined his every move with more skepticism than I had his android creation, Geminoid F, who had performed in the play. You can see video of Dr. Ishiguro and his android-self here.
The theater tour continues to Philadelphia, Burlington, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. More information at Japan Society here.