April 22, 2013, 4:52 PM — The past few decades have seen robots occupy numerous occupations once purely under the sole purview of humans. This trend towards a de-peopled workplace shows no promise of slowing down anytime soon. In fact, a new project appearing at NYC's Tribeca Film Festival is proving that robots may have yet another role that they can take off our carbon-based hands: documentary filmmaker.
The Blabdroid project aims to be "the world's first documentary shot and directed entirely by robots." The project pairs tiny adorable robots with human subjects who are then questioned and filmed by their automated counterparts. The questioning includes sometimes pointed queries such as "What's the worst thing you've ever done to someone," "Who do you love most in the world," and "Tell me something you've never told a stranger before."
Attendees of the Tribeca Film Festival's Storyscapes program who volunteered for the Blabdroids project were asked to sign a release form so that the resulting footage could be combined into a documentary that will premiere later in the festival.
While many interviewees may be lax to explain to a human film crew these private matters such as "what is the last risk you took?" or "why they love the people in their lives," there is a disarming quality about answering the questions innocently posited by a pre-recorded voice of a small child emanating from a tiny adorable smiling face.
Brent Hoff , one of the sentient forces behind the project told me how he was particularly interested in the patterns that appeared to emerge from the line of questioning. For example, when asked about the important lessons learned in life, numerous women in particular responded about gaining the ability to say "no."
The bots were designed by Alexander Reben as part of his MIT Media Lab master thesis under a project originally titled Boxie The Story Gathering Robot. The team sees Blabdroids as being an open-source project that can be uploaded with customizable questions that can be repurposed for other projects.
Aside from artistic purposes, one could imagine Blabdroid-like bots being used as location-specific polling mechanisms or even as replacements for wedding videographers.
While Blabdroids still require a human editor to sort through the footage to appraise the quality of the content, they represent a new and exciting way the human condition can be represented through our newest technological tools.