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Building Human-Robot Relationships Through Music and Dance

A performance called FOREST is exploring trust through creative collaboration

2 min read
Ten colorfully lit robot arms on metal pedestals spread out across a dance stage

There’s no reliably good way of getting a human to trust a robot. Part of the problem is that robots, generally, just do whatever they’ve been programmed to do, and for a human, there’s typically no feeling that the robot is in the slightest bit interested in making any sort of non-functional connection. From a robot’s perspective, humans are fragile ambulatory meatsacks that are not supposed to be touched and who help with tasks when necessary, nothing more.

Humans come to trust other humans by forming an emotional connection with them, something that robots are notoriously bad at. An emotional connection obviously doesn’t have to mean love, or even like, but it does mean that there’s some level of mutual understanding and communication and predictability, a sense that the other doesn’t just see you as an object (and vice versa). For robots, which are objects, this is a real challenge, and with funding from the National Science Foundation, roboticists from the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology have partnered with the Kennesaw State University dance department on a “forest” of improvising robot musicians and dancers who interact with humans to explore creative collaboration and the establishment of human-robot trust.


According to the researchers, the FOREST robots and accompanying musical robots are not rigid mimickers of human melody and movement; rather, they exhibit a remarkable level of emotional expression and human-like gesture fluency–what the researchers call “emotional prosody and gesture” to project emotions and build trust.

Looking up what “prosody” means will absolutely take you down a Wikipedia black hole, but the term broadly refers to parts of speech that aren’t defined by the actual words being spoken. For example, you could say “robots are smart” and impart a variety of meanings to it depending on whether you say it ironically or sarcastically or questioningly or while sobbing, as I often do. That’s prosody. You can imagine how this concept can extend to movements and gestures as well, and effective robot-to-human interaction will need to account for this.

Many of the robots in this performance are already well known, including Shimon, one of Gil Weinberg’s most creative performers. Here’s some additional background about how the performance came together:

What I find personally a little strange about all this is the idea of trust, because in some ways, it seems as though robots should be totally trustworthy because they can (in an ideal world) be totally predictable, right? Like, if a robot is programmed to do things X, Y, and Z in that sequence, you don’t have to trust that a robot will do Y after X in the same way that you’d have to trust a human to do so, because strictly speaking the robot has no choice. As robots get more complicated, though, and there’s more expectation that they’ll be able to interact with humans socially, that gap between what is technically predictable (or maybe, predictable after the fact) and what is predictable by the end user can get very, very wide, which is why a more abstract kind of trust becomes increasingly important. Music and dance may not be the way to make that happen for every robot out there, but it’s certainly a useful place to start.

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The First Million-Transistor Chip: the Engineers’ Story

Intel’s i860 RISC chip was a graphics powerhouse

21 min read
Twenty people crowd into a cubicle, the man in the center seated holding a silicon wafer full of chips

Intel's million-transistor chip development team

In San Francisco on Feb. 27, 1989, Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., startled the world of high technology by presenting the first ever 1-million-transistor microprocessor, which was also the company’s first such chip to use a reduced instruction set.

The number of transistors alone marks a huge leap upward: Intel’s previous microprocessor, the 80386, has only 275,000 of them. But this long-deferred move into the booming market in reduced-instruction-set computing (RISC) was more of a shock, in part because it broke with Intel’s tradition of compatibility with earlier processors—and not least because after three well-guarded years in development the chip came as a complete surprise. Now designated the i860, it entered development in 1986 about the same time as the 80486, the yet-to-be-introduced successor to Intel’s highly regarded 80286 and 80386. The two chips have about the same area and use the same 1-micrometer CMOS technology then under development at the company’s systems production and manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Ore. But with the i860, then code-named the N10, the company planned a revolution.

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