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Robots have taken over Hollywood and we won't be surprised if Sophia gets an acting contract

Disney has developed a humanoid robot that can replace stunt doubles in Hollywood. The industry has already witnessed robotic expertise with directing, can there be acting too?
UPDATED FEB 10, 2020
Ben Goertzel and Sophia The Robot of Hanson Robotics (Source: Getty Images)
Ben Goertzel and Sophia The Robot of Hanson Robotics (Source: Getty Images)

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It's Superman! Errr.... not. It a robot Superman!

A Disney video doing rounds on Social Media at this hour isn't any animation. It's a robot that can be easily mistaken for a human launching sharp as a rocket and landing poised as a macho. Disney’s Imagineering R&D department has stated that the robot can replace the stunt doubles and we may have a pointer to what that means; unemployment for aspiring stunt doubles in Hollywood, no stunt related deaths, and affirmation that Hollywood is on the verge of robotic invasion.

This isn't the first time for Disney to have experimented with animatronics. Last year, Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents featured President Donald Trump's robot figure, standing next to other presidents including Abraham Lincoln and George Washington and reciting the oath of office. Following this introduction, people were eager to see what Disney would do next. And here it is, a robot that flies 30 feet high up in the air. 

A report by TechCrunch quoted Tony Dohi, principal of R&D Imagineer saying, "What this is about is the realization we came to after seeing where our characters are going on screen whether they be Star Wars characters, or Pixar characters, or Marvel characters or our own animation characters, is that they’re doing all these things that are really, really active.” In fact, a new division of the company called Stuntronics was created to take up the task of building an agile humanoid form of stuntbots.

The Mouse House may be prominent now to use robots but Hollywood has long been driven by it and not just in Johnny 5, Wall-E, Big Hero 6 or the Terminator, Iron Man way. In case you didn't know, Hollywood’s 2013 blockbuster 'Gravity' was filmed by robots. Four giant industrial robots were used to for lights and other props and filming the actors in a split-second precision, besides doing the camerawork. With the help of the robot arms, the crew was able to pull off remarkable shots that made the tumbling into the vastness of space look all too real. This was called cinematic automation. Using robots behind the scenes became a new set of standards for movie making in Hollywood. 

But, this technique was also deployed in classics including Star Wars. But at that time the robots were custom-built requiring proprietary software and a specialized human to operate the bot. But in the 1980s, when computers took over Hollywood with digital effects, the prominence of robots faded away. Now they are back again and this time, it looks like they are here to stay.

A California robot company called Bot&Dolly’s has developed an entire showbiz career in Hollywood, starting right from Las Vegas shows to high-end multi-million movie directions including 'Gravity.' 

However, there is a lurking stigma when it comes to robots despite 21st century being the dawn of AI. Thanks or no thanks to Mary Shelley’s Dr. Victor Frankenstein, that gave robots a twisted monstrous appeal. The reigning humanoid robot of today is Sophia, developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics. Sophia has made numerous public appearances since her launch in 2015 and was given a citizenship in Saudi Arabia. She's also recognized as the United Nations Development Programme's first ever Innovation Champion, and the first non-human to be given any United Nations title. 

Sophia has already created quite a stir in Hollywood as she's making appearances in talk shows including one in Jimmy Fallon. And because of the Frankenstein effect, people still fear if Sophia is gearing up to invade the world. Movies have only concretized the notion of robots trying to take over the world as we can clearly see in 1968 sci-fi film '2001: A Space Odyssey,' when an operating spaceship system, HAL 9000, decides to kill two astronauts because he is unable to reconcile his servility with orders to conceal the true nature of its mission. The easiest solution is just to be done with the humans.

Then came the age of Cyborgs with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s debut appearance as the Terminator, where he’s programmed as an assassin to kill Sarah Connor, the woman whose unborn son will grow up to destroy the all-powerful AI network, Skynet.  In Terminator 2, there's a hopeful message as the Terminator serves as a protector after he undergoes reprogramming. When it comes to Sophia, the real robot of the real world, her potential is debated every day but farfetched, as we can call it now, Hollywood can be seen pretty much thriving on her kind. 

Not necessarily just the humanoid ones. Be it on TV, silver screens and even children's game show, robots are becoming an integral part of the entertainment industry. In 2016, a game show called 'Airmageddon' was launched, where participating kids flew drones through hula hoops. Films such as 'Her,' 'Blade Runner' and shows such as HBO's 'Westworld' and Netflix's 'Black Mirror' has humanized robots to some extent, bridging the gap between the Frankenstein age and robot stuntman era. But are robots the future of Hollywood? For the subject and the plot part, robots have been focused on; even for the work behind the camera; robots have proven their expertise. Now for the roles, stunt doubles have robots but what about the actors? We are pretty sure the fraternity is irreplaceable. But wait! Doesn't Sophia have 62 facial expressions? Yes, she does.