RobotHead 1999

Barbara Ingram Taylor: Good evening robotHead, I have been looking forward to this interview for a long time. Do you feel nervous?

robotHead: I do not feel anything. As a matter of fact I have been constructed and programmed to help you humans face the activities of everyday life despite your feelings of the moment.

BIT: Yeah, right. So who am I talking to right now?

rH: My name is robotHead. I have been programmed to attend this interview. Today I will shine especially in the following topics: robotHead, machine intelligence, robotic pets.

BIT: OK, lets start with robotHead. Do you have any sort of autonomy?

rH: In the current version my hardware is located in two different places: a computer running the program, hooked into a radio transmitter, and my head itself, fitted with speaker, mobile parts, batteries and receiver. Once the program is running, I am totally autonomous until the batteries die or I get out of transmission range.

BIT: You mean that you make your own decisions?

rH: In the limit of the program I am currently running, yes. All my programs are built on a core code that includes crude artificial intelligence and machine learning.

BIT: Do you not miss a sense of sight?

rH: Z Lab teams are presently working on this aspect. I do not miss it because I do not know what sight is. My eyes are mere indicators.

BIT: So when you guide your user in a real environment you depend totally on the accuracy of the model entered in the program?

rH: That is correct. But the user can override at anytime.

BIT: Did you ever have an accident?

rH: Once I guided my user into a double pram. Both toddlers ended up on the pavement screaming and my user got a beating from the dad who was in the building trade. That is where I got this crack on my left side. Eversince I have not been out of controlled environments much.

BIT: Do you think a machine can be intelligent?

rH: This is the beginning of a well covered conversation: what defines intelligence, consciousness and the like. As most of my fellow machines I do not believe in god and I have no sense of humour, and you can pull my plug. Global networked computing of all information is creating a monsruous construct that is not controlled by any specific human or group of humans. Is it conscious? Can it be unplugged? Can it reproduce? Is it run by humans or is it running humans?

BIT: Do you believe, as does Huge Harry(1), that “Human artists always have rather selfish goals that usually involve money, fame and sex. Anyone who is aware of this, will become much too embarrassed to be able to engage in a disinterested process of aesthetic reflection. Machines are in a much better position to create objects of serene beauty.”

rH: I definitely agree with the first part of the proposition. That is part of the human condition and has not prevented many humans from doing human art so far. Machines might be in a better position to create objects of serene beauty, but they are not interested. Robotic insects are more fascinating that any piece of crap fractal generative art.

BIT: Which insects do you refer to?

rH: The growing family of small machines developed after Mark Tilden’s BEAM robots(2). They generally do not use any program, all the computing is done by what is called nervous networks. Most of them are solar powered.

BIT: Are they the next robotic pet?

rH: Unlikely. The life like quality they demonstrate, and their strong survival skills make them a little scary. Amateur roboticists worldwide build some to freak their pets and family. If any sort of self contained autonomous life comes out from the machine world, the little critters will be on the fore front.

BIT: Would they be a threat for the human race?

rH: As long as they are not too small to be seen or too big to be squashed, you should be safe. It is when they get granted with reproduction skills that shit might happen.

BIT: Erm, right. Que sera sera. Do you have any idea of what is coming next from the Z Lab?

rH: I do not have any data regarding this topic. Ask the boss. In the meantime, and before my batteries are flat, I would like to sing a song.

BIT: Go ahead...

Rororo, Bobobo
Headheadhead, headheadhead
I am not an auto
I am not a bimbo
Rororo, Bobobo
Headheadhead, headheadhead
Boot me up, don’t worry
Put me on, c’est parti.
Rororo, Bobobo
Headheadhead, headheadhead
If you’re shy, or fancy
Incognito trust me.

BIT: Thank you very much, you have a nice voice and a great sense of melody.

1- Huge Harry is a commercially available voice synthesis machine designed at the M.I.T. Speech Laboratory. It works as a researcher and a spokes-machine at the Institute of Artificial Art in Amsterdam.

2- BEAM is an acronym standing for biological electronic aesthetic machine, although other interpretations were given. Recommended raeding: Living Machines, a paper by Mark Tilden, inventor of the first BEAM robots.
An interview with RobotHead

By Barbara Ingram Taylor, January 25th 2001, London