Hark, the herald ... robots sing? Apparently, yes: in Berlin, the hot ticket of the season includes a robot singing his way into the international public spotlight in an attempt to track behavioral patterns in autonomous humanoids.
Did we mention that the production is a remake of My Fair Lady, produced by a German troupe called the Gob Squad? Hitting heavy with the metaphors, this is.
The bot, named Myon, was built at the Neurobotics Research Lab at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, under the supervision of Professor Manfred Hild. Additionally, Myon was created within the contextual purview of the EU's Artificial Language Evolution on Autonomous Robots (ALEAR) program, which, according to its website, is "an ambitious scientific endeavor that tries to unravel the secrets of cognition and language ... the project partners explore how complex grammatical systems and behaviors can emerge in populations of robotic agents."
In accordance with ALEAR's goal - to see if it is possible for autonomous robots to actually acquire behavioral patterns - Myon is programmed to mimic feelings through learned conduct or, to put it more succinctly, react to visual and physical stimuli. Myon's bag of tricks includes responding to visual cues like the color red, moving about the stage, and, most notably, singing with the cast.
At 4 feet 1 inches tall, the humanoid robot clocks in at around 35 pounds and is the size of an eight-year-old child. Rather than being controlled by an Oz-like robo-operator, Myon is autonomous, complete with his own neural network, processing power, and energy supply.
Myon's dramatic prowess was two years in the making: when the robot was first brought on board for the Gob Squad's ambitious production, he was more or less a tabula rasa. "He was sitting in front of us on a chair and that was it. He could do nothing more than just sit and stare at us," fellow cast member Bernhard Hansky said in an interview with Motherboard. "But in these last two years, he's acquired knowledge about human behaviours and he is now able to do stuff by himself."
Also based on George Bernard Shaw's original 1913 play Pygmalion, My Square Lady swaps Eliza Doolittle with Myon, riffing on both versions' seratted critiques on class with the idea of what it means to be human, and if it's teachable.
The trailer alone for My Square Lady is worth watching. It features child actors in kitschy cardboard robot costumes doing their best Fosse impressions on a revolving turntable, cast members casually passing around amputated humanoid limbs, and a lot of Germans singing a cover of "I Sing the Body Electric" from the 1980 classic Fame. (To be fair, The Body Electric is also the title of a book about electromagnetism and "our bioelectric selves," but who's counting?)
(Here's the original, if you are so inclined, starring Irene Cara(!))