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Robot Love in Edinburgh – Cybraphon & ASIMO

After reading about Cybraphon everywhere, including, and seeing footage of him everywhere including US TV, I finally got to see “him” last week at the inspace gallery in Edinburgh, and was blown away. It reminded me of when ASIMO, Honda’s humanoid robot, visited the city back in April as part of the Science Festival.

At first the link may seem quite tenuous, as I’m not even sure if Cybraphon could be termed a robot in the strictest sense of the word, but what both share is their human qualities. In ASIMO’s case this is “his” physical resemblance to the human body and his ability to walk in a similar way (something which took Honda’s engineers years of testing to achieve). In Cybraphon’s case it is his huge ego. His emotions, as anyone following him on twitter or facebook will be well aware, fluctuate wildly from dismay to rapture – and it’s all driven by how popular he is on a variety of internet search engines and social networking sites (believe me, I know the feeling).

When we saw him I’m pleased to say he was well at the upper end of the scale, varying slightly from outright rapture to bliss. The music he plays is of course excellent, being programmed by Edinburgh band Found. I missed the event where Found played with their (and Prof. Simon Kirby’s) creation but I asked my friend Iain Radcliffe to report back from the event and he had this to say:

The other night I went to see a lecture about and performance by autonomous, emotional, robot band Cybraphon at the Inspace Gallery on Crichton Street (free entry and free beer too). Created by fantastic Edinburgh band/art/film collective FOUND, Cybraphon blends the old fashioned with the ultra modern, combining the look of Victorian mechanical orchestrions with the modern musician’s need to be noticed. “Image conscious and emotional, the band’s performance is affected by online community opinion as it searches the web for reviews and comments about itself 24 hours a day.”It has been described as “the barmiest object ever conceived by anyone” – what better recommendation than that?

Highlights were the incredibly complicated wiring diagram of Cybraphon’s brain, comparison of web stats for cybraphon and FOUND (cybraphon much more popular) and the video of cybraphon on Dallas TV news show/pictured in Italian magazine. Its popularity seemed to soar after being picked up by Wired magazine. But Prof. Simon Kirby explained that after all that attention, its ego has been designed to crave more, so can slump from delirium to depression pretty quickly. It probably didn’t help when Found frontman Ziggy Campbell slagged off his creation, saying, “I personally don’t rate it…you can’t play along with this thing.”

What was most surreal about my own experience visiting Cybraphon was when we were asked to applaud him when he finished each song. Though it wasn’t clear that this would have any affect on its mood, what we were doing was applauding a wardrobe. But it was a wardrobe with human qualities – the ability to make music, and to have a range of emotions.

I got the same strange feeling at the ASIMO event earlier in the year and as you can see from the short video below there was also much applause for this amazing robot. Just watching it walk across the stage I hope you get an idea of just how eerily human it’s movements make it seem. During the presentation ASIMO delivered a round of drinks, walked upstairs (which was another massive challenge to its creators due to the unique way the human body works) and even danced while the audience clapped along.

Now obviously Cybraphon is a fantastic and innovative piece of art, whereas Asimo is a masterpiece of scientific progress with huge amounts of funding behind it, and designed by Honda strictly with consumers in mind. Let’s face it he’s designed to fulfil rich people’s desire to have a butler/servant that they don’t have to feel too guilty about. But in both cases the humans present, myself included, treated the robot as if it were a human – and we were thrilled to see the robot act in a very similar way to ourselves.

Were we in fact applauding prototypes of our future masters? Were we celebrating the early stages of the encroaching singularity? Are these the ancestors of the robot uprising of 2174? Only time will tell. All I know is, these robots are seriously fucking cool.

Robot Love in Edinburgh – Vimeo version

Robot Love in Edinburgh – YouTube version

Visit Cybraphon

Visit Asimo

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Update – the full video footage of the Cybraphon vs Found event is now online:

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