Artificial Intelligence and What It Makes Possible

CITEC interaction technology featured in Bielefeld premiere of „Die Möglichkeit“ (“Possibility”)

Artificial arms, cardiac valves, and brain pacemakers for people are already an everyday thing. This also goes for ubiquitous accessibility and worldwide connectivity: smartphones, tablets, and computers are becoming ever-more effective, and can do more and more. Artificial intelligence is on the rise, but it is something we have to fear? How far advanced are technical systems already? In his new theatrical play “Die Möglichkeit” (The Possibility”), documentary filmmaker and director Konrad Kästner poses these types of questions. The production by Theater Bielefeld is a partial-documentary piece between stage and film. Käster filmed at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC, among other locations.

The humanoid robot Nao teaches children a foreign language in the project L2Tor. Photo: Bielefeld University/CITEC Director Konrad Kästner filmed five CITEC projects for his play “Die Möglichkeit.” Following the performances, interested audience members can talk with the director to discuss the pros and cons of artificial intelligence.

“The interconnectedness between humans and machines is getting ever closer. Software programs develop their own opinions of right and wrong,” as the promotional text from the Theater Bielefeld describes. “The conception of robots made of steel and wires is long obsolete. Machines are getting more and more ‘human’ – both in their form and functionality.” CITEC conducts research on different virtual avatars, and humanoid and industrial robots, as well as technical systems for intelligent residential environments. The Cluster pursues basic research on cognitive interaction technology, and for this reason, working together with CITEC was an obvious choice for the Theater Bielefeld.

“Research on artificial intelligence is not so far advanced that we would have to worry that our society could be controlled by technical systems – and it is also not even clear whether that could ever even be the case,” says Professor Dr. Stefan Kopp, who heads the Cognitive Social Systems research group. His EU project L2Tor is also featured in the play. “Unfortunately, there is hype surrounding artificial intelligence – caused by TV shows and marketing campaigns from big companies, but also from our own colleagues. This hype is increasingly losing touch with reality and is drowning out nuanced voices.” Here, according to Kopp, clarification is needed. For this reason, CITEC was eager to support Konrad Kästner’s theatrical production.

For his play, Kästner filmed in virtual reality at the Locomotion Lab of the Biological Cybernetics research group, and actor Jan Sabo took on the role of an android. The team filmed children learning to speak English with the humanoid robot Nao. Language training with this robot is part of the EU project L2Tor. Sabo has Floka, the robot from the caring apartment, give him a drink, and shakes the hand of the robot world champion from 2016. The actor also took a step into virtual reality by visiting the project ICSpace, where he was scanned and a virtual avatar was made for him. Finally, Sabo tried out three assistive systems in the intelligent research apartment KogniHome, where CITEC researcher Michael Adams explained the prototypes to him. In addition to CITEC, Kästner’s team also filmed at the Bremen Ambient Assisted Living Lab, a research apartment in Bremen, Germany, and at many other locations. In the videos, Kästner also deals with optimization of the human body and genetic engineering, among other topics.

In his play, Kästner seeks above all to open up a wide associative space, thus providing the audience a chance to form their own personal opinions on a very large thematic field. In doing so, each person will probably ask themselves very different questions, but one of the key questions will certainly be: what do humans want from artificial intelligence – and what could artificial intelligence want from them?

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