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International collaboration with Australia students on transhumanism

Kaline Mulvihill
September 12, 2013

A group of students from SUNY Oswego’s Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) graduate program, traveled to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Melbourne, Australia over the summer to develop the groups research on transhumanism.

Damian Schofield, director of the HCI program at SUNY Oswego and Lisa Dethridge, director of the School of Media and Communication at RMIT, created a program for students to experience international collaboration while furthering their research.

Schofield began a new HCI course on transhumanism where students took a philosophical and cognitive science approach on the complex relationship between humans and robot technology.

There were over 20 students in the lecture class, but a group of five students decided to apply what they were learning in the classroom with hands-on experience.


The five students, along with Schofield and Tatiana Tavares, a visiting scholar from Brazil, began collaborating with students from RMIT who were in the School of Media and Communication.

The goal: Work together to create short films using the NAO robots from the HCI department at SUNY Oswego and the written scripts from the RMIT students.

The NAO robots were purchased by the HCI department and have helped improve the quality of students’ learning experience.

NAO robots are sophisticated, configured, programmable devices that have been used in research all over the world.

The students had the opportunity to discuss plans through telecommunication and video conferencing.

“RMIT had class in the morning and Oswego had class at night,” said Robert Tew, computer science undergraduate student at SUNY Oswego. “With the 14 hour time difference, the class was moved from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in order to speak with RMIT students.”

The five HCI students including Tew, Carly Karas, Adam Matta, Anthony Kirkpatrick and Philip Moore, along with Schofield and Tavares, traveled to Australia in the beginning of the summer.

When they arrived at RMIT, Dethridge and her media students welcomed the group and work on transforming the movies scripts into short films where leading roles would be played by robots, began.

“The challenge for me today is not to develop new things, but how you use the Internet and technology in a way people understand,” Tavares said.
Tatiana Tavares,visiting scholar from Brazil
Human Computer Interaction

“We had to ask if the script is possible to do with robots,” Taveres said. “ It is very difficult to explain what the robots can do.”

Three scripts were chosen and movie boards for each scene were created. The SUNY Oswego group returned from Australia after three weeks and began production on the shorts films.

The robot films

The three short films had very different plots. “Robbot” is about a woman who’s husband died and she decided to replace him with a robotic husband. “Jonno and mate” is about an Australian man and a robot becoming friends. The third film is an adaptation from a scene out of the book, “Blade Runner.”

Transhumanism played an important role as the SUNY Oswego students began filming and learning how to make the robots more human.

H“It had to do with robots becoming more human and humans becoming more computer integrated,” said Moore, an HCI graduate student. “ We wanted to see robots taking on human traits and if they could be perceived as human or if they could feel things or even be perceived as feeling emotions.”

Moore’s role was to film “Robbot” and “Jonno and Mate.” Schofield had connections with local actors and actresses to play the humans in the films.

The challenges of using robots in the film were short battery life, adding emotion into the robots speech, and creating each movement to match the joints of a human.

“We typed the speech out, but robots don’t necessarily say it the way you want them to because they are reading it back and there’s a lack of emotion,” Moore said. “You have to purposely miss spell words or add in letters.”

The three films were shot and edited and will be available to watch online soon.

Importance of project

“The challenge for me today is not to develop new things, but how you use the Internet and technology in a way people understand,” Tavares said.

SUNY Oswego HCI students and faculty have been working with the NAO robots for a few years and have used them to give health information to children, have had them dance and most recently have begun robot theater production.

“The most interesting thing for me is how people interpret when they see these robots performing an activity which is normally a human activity,” Schofield said. “What I’m really interested in is the human response.”

Human-computer interaction is just that, the study of how humans interact and respond to technology.

“I think this is why Lisa decided to bring the classes together because its something for us, as humans, to think about our future and think about how we can use our technology to improve our own relationships,” Tavares said.

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