Image credit: Monika Ritterhaus, tanzhaus nrw

Here comes another example of humanoid robotics: Alter 3. Jointly developed by laboratories studying artificial life at Osaka University and the University of Tokyo, Alter is powered by a neural network. Uniquely, the robot decides to move on its own, waving its arms, fingers, the upper torso, and its head, as well as making facial expressions, when it chooses based on inputs from the surrounding world.

At the digital festival “Hi Robot – Das Mensch Maschine Festival” in Düsseldorf Alter 3 conducted the Japanese Philarmonoc Düsseldorf and performed Scary Beauty composed by Keiichiro Shibuya for the first time in Germany.

The humanoid robot is equipped with an autonomous artificial intelligence. His face and hands resemble those of a human, his body allows us an unhindered look at a metal skeleton, at the motors, cables and control elements of a visibly complex machine. The Japanese Philharmonic Düsseldorf follow the conducting of Alter 3, accompanied by Keiichiro Shibuya, the composer and pianist of this “Android Opera”, as he himself calls his work, and Hikaru Kotobuki, who is responsible for the electronic sound. Then Alter 3 produces its own sound contributing to the avant-garde sounds of the orchestra.

It sings “The Seven Last Songs of Human”, narrating a tale in which humanity will be unable to live without machines in the near future, machines man yet created himself. The basis is formed by iconic texts from the history of literature, from Michel Houellebecq and Yukio Mishima to William S. Burroughs and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Among the creators of Alter 3 are the composer and musician Keiichiro Shibuya and the programmer Prof. Takashi Ikegami as well as the robotics expert Prof. Hiroshi Ishiguro. He is regarded as a pop star in his field and as one of the most radical representatives of a society to come, in which robots and humans coexist.

While watching the video the attentive observer will not fail to notice that the surprisingly fluent gestures of the robot sometimes appear very arbitrary without reference to the music and differ little from the movements the machine performs in other contexts. Sarcastic voices compare them to the movements of a drunk. In the end, the suspicion arises that it was the capacity of the machine that limited the composer’s artistic freedom. Whether art should have limits or not, this example poses a more fundamental question, that is the question of what art is, if not an expression of human feelings and a way of communication between humans.  At the very least, it should not be forgotten that conducting an orchestra during a performance is at the very end of a communication process between conductor and performer in which the conductor realizes his very own interpretation of a composition. There seems to be a long way to go before then and time enough to get used to scary beauties.