A small robot the size of an eight-year old-child is the star of My Square Lady, a new opera at Komische Oper Berlin. International artist collective Gob Squad has developed the opera based on My Fair Lady and the story is simple: Opera employees explain to Myon what makes opera so special while Myon gets an understanding of what it means to be human and to feel emotions.
Myon, developed by Berlin Humboldt University has not been programmed but taught how to interact with the singers in a similar way as a child learns new actions. The actions were initially triggered using barcodes but the robot has often surprised its creators, reacting differently than expected. During the performance Myon sees with its camera and hears with its microphone, reacting to sounds and remembering movements.
Manfred Hild, head of Neurorobotics Research Laboratory, who developed the robot, explains the process: Emotions decide where to go with the attention. And so there is an attentional frame. Should the robot focus on the object or does it get boring and has there been a noise, and so the robot turns to this side... And its the emotional mechanisms which are in place and guide the process.
Johanna Freiburg of Gob Squad explains the essence behind the opera: For us, the robot is a means to look at ourselves as humans, and ask the question: what makes us a human? And what differentiates us from a machine or an object? And empathy and the ability to feel are quite crucial, I think, to do that. Looking at the robot we reflect on ourselves.
While Myon learns how to sing and conduct, the opera unfortunatly does not end well for it. To form an understanding of how the robot works it is taken apart and passed around by the singers during the performance.