Instructors: Adrianne Wortzel & Carl Weiman

Week 1: Introduction

This is a collaborative projects course for students of art, architecture and engineering. Projects will be geared for production via a telerobotic website — which functions as an on-line theater space for robots as actors and is manipulated by remote visitors to the web site. Projects will occupy a real physical space at the Cooper Union where the repertory company of robot actors will "live" and perform. This course consciously merges art and engineering to push new frontiers in the cyberlife-forms emerging on the web. The paradox of self-identity in remote presence is a growing issue. We address such issues by creation of, and participation in, a webcast robotic stage production.

Topic First: Why Robots?

The evolution of the idea of "robots" combines ancient roots in our cultural myths of monsters and supernatural creatures, and more recent roots in our obsessions for conquering nature through artifactual creations. These creations are manifested in art, engineering, agriculture, education, architecture, government, religion and theater. It is the nature of humans to create. Is it therefore the nature of robots, expressly designed as artificial humans, to create? If so, robots are unique in all the repertory of man’s artifacts in that they are "recursive", potentially makers of makers of makers of…us? If humans can ultimately create a synthetic creature with human attributes, is not the ultimate creation one which can create a human? Since all creative acts involve some form destruction of the raw materials comprising them, the potential for destruction of humans by robots has always been a central fascination in the literature of robots.

A deep, underlying theme in the concept of robot is the delicate balance between controllable and out of control. A completely controllable entity is simply a mechanism and does not stir the imagination. A totally out of control device is a "loose cannon", only of interest for the disasters or less harmful accidental surprises it imposes on our normal lives. Returning to the (maker of makers of makers..), and its dark mirror image of (destroyer of destroyer of … man?), we will see that self referential systems inherently contain fascinating paradoxes of self-destruction, instability, and the emergence of higher forms of complexity and control. These are manifested in logical systems under the paradoxes of Goedel’s theorem, the Halting Problem, Chaos, and emergent phenomena.

In this rich twilight zone of paradox between the two extremes of control and out-of-control lies the intrigue of artificial life, manifested in robots, with enough self -control to be competent, and enough freedom to be interesting. The boundary inevitably shifts upwards as technology advances.

Topic Second: Why Theater?

Theater is the ultimate exploration ground for new ideas in culture, and employs the highest quality of our display technologies. Theater is unique as a medium for public communication of new ideas because it is free from the protocols of constrained participant roles in other presentation formats such as political meetings, symposia, or ceremonies. The "willing suspension of disbelief" is an essential ingredient which permits the artist the freedom to go where no human has gone before. The web is such a place. We timidly reach into this new medium with conventional paradigms such as advertising and information transfer. Theater has no such restrictions, and shows us who we are within this medium, and the enormous leverage it gives us as dramatic players on the world’s stage. In this course you will participate in the design, production, and performance of a theatrical work on the web.

Expectations for the Semester

1. Students will record the process towards their completed project in the form of models, scenarios, scripts, drawings, descriptions, all of which should be in both physical (print, models, etc. ) as well as electronic form

2. In addition to assignments students will keep a journal with weekly documentation in the form of a web site or notebook, consisting of reference quotes, original text and imagery (drawing, photo, video, collage, animation etc.)

3. Final project in the form of a web broadcast, performance, etc.

4. A formal final report along with project itself. Delivery of all documentation of your groups project, using electronic media


The textbook for this course is The Robot in the Garden, Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet, ed. Ken Goldberg, M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass and London, England, 2000, ISBN 0-262-07203-3.

See Bibliography and Other Resources