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• Beyond Human: The Cyborg Revolution

Beyond Human is a PBS documentary from 2001 (shot a couple of years after Robots Rising) that explores ideas of transhumanism and how technology may impact society in the future.  Originally divided into two parts, robots take something of a backseat in this one, as it begins with a look at retinal implants, nanotechnology, and wearable computers.  Notable figures like Bill Joy (Sun Microsystems) and David Brin (scientist and author) provide color commentary.

In the second part we get to the robots, and are treated to some black-and-white clips from the ’40s and ’50s depicting what life will be like with them.  Embodied intelligence and machine learning are key topics, with appearances by Takeo Kanade (developer of the direct-drive robot arm at Carnegie Mellon) and Hiroaki Kitano (one of the founders of RoboCup who, along with Tatsuya Matsui, created the robots SIG and PINO).  There’s some cute computer animations of SIG walking among us, had its body been completed (it never got past the head and shoulders phase).

Many of the same research labs shown in Robots Rising are revisited, but the robots aren’t always the same.  Honda’s P3 is demonstrated, but is followed by a highly exclusive look at the P4 walking an S-curve (the only footage we’ve ever seen of it up and running).  At Waseda University, there’s a rare demonstration of WENDY cracking an egg with its delicate fingers.  At ATR, SARCOS’ DB (Dynamic Brain) humanoid is shown doing some imitation learning.

At Tokyo Science University, the animatronic expressive female head that would become Saya is already looking much better than it was in 1998.  Granted, it’s difficult to determine exactly what expression the robot is trying to make, but progress has been made on its skin and features at least. Prof. Atsuo Takanishi (Waseda University) demonstrates the WE-3RV, a less realistic head, but one which can display moods quite clearly.  Rounding out the expressive robot heads is MIT’s famous creature-like Kismet.

Beyond Human wraps up with a look at RoboCup soccer, with comments from Prof. Manuela Veloso (Carnegie Mellon university), one of its co-founders.  At that time, RoboCup was still in its pre-humanoid years but was already well established.  Although it starts off somewhat slow with the transhumanism stuff, the second half is certainly worth watching for its rare clips of prominent robots and insights from their creators.

What’s more, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube beginning with part 1 here.

  • Beyond Human at IMDB

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