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Erica, Robot Film Star, is Pretty Typical Modern-Day Puppeteering

It may be a good film, to be sure, Jonathan Bartlett stresses, but there is little new AI in there

Yesterday, we looked at Erica the Robot, our #9 technology hype of 2020. While Erica, described as the star of a film, b, to start production in 2021, may be more sophisticated than some, clever animatronics have actually been around for decades (think Muppets… ). So Robert J. Marks and Eric Holloway talked about the question of how much of the Erica puff signifies something really groundbreaking and how much is the usual AI hype.

Jonathan Bartlett (pictured) gets back to us with some further thoughts on that very question:

The hype around Erica starts with the simple description of her role in the film. Many articles about the film say that Erica was “cast” in the role. However, being a machine, Erica is a puppet, not a cast member. It is no more correct to say that Erica was “cast” in that role than it is to say that the machine in the movie Short Circuit was “cast” for that role. In fact, as the visual effects supervisor of the movie said, “she was created from scratch to play the role.” That’s not a person being cast, that’s a prop or puppet being built.

There actually seems to be almost nothing new about Erica, and very little having to do with AI.

The main difference is the anthropomorphizing language being used to describe what is pretty typical modern-day puppeteering. Erica is being built for the movie, and is being programmed to do what her human controllers want her to do in the movie. They are simply talking about this process using words such as “coaching” which imply more personality than is there.

It is possible that Erica represents an easier user interface for people to control. Perhaps Erica has a natural language interface, or some other mechanism that requires fewer switches, wires, and numbers, and can do more mimicry and verbal response. Those would indeed be worthwhile advances. Unfortunately, rather than talk about the reality behind the technical advances in robotics and robotic interfaces in the movie industry, they would prefer that we imagine ourselves in a science fiction movie. Whether it is Sophia the robot giving “interviews” or Erica “starring” in science fiction films, it’s not enough for the media that we suspend belief to watch a movie, they are asking us to suspend belief when reading the news as well.

In the Short Circuit film, the robot looks the way we thought a robot should look in 1986:

How much difference does it make if the robot looks the way we think it should look and sound in 2021?:

The “doll” role is plastic covering and such. It’s not necessarily new AI since the Muppets.

You may also enjoy:

9: Erica the Robot stars in a film. But really, does she? This is just going to be a fancier Muppets movie, Eric Holloway predicts, with a bit more electronics. Often, making the robot sound like a real person is just an underpaid engineer in the back, running the algorithm a couple of times on new data sets.

Also, for a walk down the golden age of memories:

Our AI Hype Top Ten 2018: Help, not hype, from a computer science prof


Top Ten AI hypes of 2019.

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Erica, Robot Film Star, is Pretty Typical Modern-Day Puppeteering