Transmission in Motion


“A beautifully Uncanny & Fruitful Interaction with a Dinosaur” – Elisavet Kardami

by Laura Karreman

Roos van Berkel and Emilia Barakova’s lecture offered a very fresh perspective on the diverse ways that human and robots can interact, but also the affective potential movement regardless of who or what is generating it. What I found particularly fascinating was how the dinosaur robot (PLEO) that the researchers offered to the audience to interact with triggered, according to my experience, a high degree of affective responses. I felt that this was, at least partially, related to the way that the robot was seemingly and almost effortlessly responding to my movements. I am not aware of how it was programmed, what was the range of movements that it is able to generate, whether or not each different movement was generated randomly, or whether has been programmed to respond to specific interactions in a specific way. Regardless, this interaction was very memorable to me, because there were many moments when I felt that an uncanny form of communication was being established that was purely based on a physical interaction between a human and a non-human agent.

This experience made me wonder what were the most crucial aspects of this interaction that facilitated such a response. One aspect, was the appearance, as well as the texture of the robot. It had the form of a dinosaur, with very soft physical characteristics and smooth “skin”. So, in many ways, it was something visually and tactilely familiar. I can imagine that I would respond very differently to a robot that was not resembling an animal or a human. Nevertheless, I felt that there was another aspect that played a more important role in my affective response. It was the micro-movements of the robot and the way that it was responding to my touch that initiated this form of communication. This interaction resembled a sender-recipient format but using as solely movement instead. The subtlety of its facial expressions allowed me to identify certain familiar emotional responses, but what accentuated the communication was its responsiveness to my stimuli, based on my movements and my touch. These remarks raised some questions for me: is there a threshold where we, as human agents, can identify and affectively respond to movements generated by non-human agents? To what extent is this threshold dependent on form, if at all? To what extent am I anthropomorphizing the interaction with the robot? Roos van Berkel and Emilia Barakove’s work offer a rich and valuable framework as a way of initiating and engaging with this kind of questions.