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Review: The Uncanny Valley

A play by Francesca Talenti that puts a robot actor on stage

3 min read
uncanny valley play
Do Androids Dream of Equity Cards? Alphonse Nicholson played human test subject Edwin (right) opposite the RoboThespian (left).
Photo: Kathy Perkins

The RoboThespian, a human-size robot developed by Engineered Arts, based in Penryn, England, often works as a museum guide. It has also done some very stiff stand-up comedy and a slightly less stiff rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain.”

But these are largely solo performances. In July, it did something more unusual: It performed alongside two humans in a play called The Uncanny Valley, which made its New York City premiere at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn. (Clearly, robots are in the zeitgeist, as another production called Uncanny Valley played in New York around the same time; its robot character was portrayed by a human actor.) Both plays are named after the distressing psychological gray zone that people experience when faced by a robot or avatar that looks and acts enough like a human to be creepy, but not enough to be convincing.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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