The Scariest Thing Robots Could Do: Start Screwing Up Like Humans

Illustration for article titled The Scariest Thing Robots Could Do: Start Screwing Up Like Humans

Plenty of robot stories deal with the dread of the too-perfect automaton, which overtakes us with its implacable logic and efficiency. But what could be even more disturbing is if robots were programmed to screw up, to make them seem more human. That's the premise of a new stage musical, Sorry Robot.


Sorry Robot, written and composed by Mike Iveson (who also plays the robot at the far right of the picture up top, with his pants down), is about a plan to upgrade robots to give them more empathy. But there's also another plan, to make robots less perfect, and thus supposedly less intimidating to humans.

As the New York Times review explains:

On hand to do the bidding of these high-powered humans are two robots, or rather two models of robots. (Presumably, each has been manufactured in multiples.) In addition to Mr. Iveson's Junius, who has the classic poker face and monotone voice of the cookie-cutter robot, there's Fortnight, who is played by Nicky Paraiso in a looser, more florid style that suggests this particular manikin must have been programmed with a Carmen Miranda chip.

Junius and Fortnight, or at least a Junius and a Fortnight, are here not only to serve as amanuenses, valets, telephones and scanners for the humans in residence at the hotel, but also to participate in product demonstrations in which they show their capacity for behaving like real people. These presentations take the form of spasmodic vignettes, in which one robot pretends to be human while the other takes on the role of robot grief counselor at a funeral home, perhaps, or cooking instructor.

And then, sometimes, the robots burst into song, with synth-heavy pop ballads that turn out to reflect on the real human lives of the people they're talking to. And apparently those ballads do something strange to the human listeners who hear their truths revealed in them. It sounds pretty trippy and fascinating, especially the "airport lounge" aesthetic.

Read more details over in the New York Times.