WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT DOPPELGÄNGER…

When we imagine what a robot looks like, the DoppelGänger bots pretty much fit our assumed description — largely metal, clunky casts, with lights and wires too complicated to comprehend strewn across its body. Well, DoppelGänger is this and much more!

DoppelGänger was created by ForReal Team and ProtoDynamics in Israel as an exploration of the dynamic link between virtual and physical identities; the exhibit examines human-robot kinetic interactions and explores the possibilities of robotic armies or military helper bots in the near future — a possibility that is becoming a reality for a robotics company Boston Dynamics, who have successfully created a pack mule called the LS3 or the ‘Big Dog’, as it’s sometimes known.

ForReal Team worked tirelessly over the installation week before the opening night of HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY to create the dynamic trio of DoppelGänger. The robots were shiny new toys in the gallery, a techie’s dream, and they worked a treat — during the HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY launch party, when the exhibition opened to the public for the first time, they drew quite a crowd. How often do you get a chance to have three space-age bots copy you doing the macarena?

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DoppelGänger performed well during the opening week of HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY, but then we started to notice something off about the bots’ behaviour as the weeks progressed. When one bot suddenly shut itself off, we noticed that one of its wires had been pulled out of the main circuit panel. The wire was fixed, and all was dandy — until it happened again. This time, I was there to witness it. No one was interacting with the piece; no one was dabbing, or doing the robot even, when all of a sudden, the robot ripped its own wire out with its arm! It had to be seen to be believed.

Over the next few days, the other two robots followed suit, ripping their wires out and literally popping their cogs. One even disassembled its arm — twice!

It was clear these robots did not want to be displayed. Our technical team were kept busy devising fixes for the self-destructing robots; the artists were consulted, and a Ph.D. of robotics from Trinity College Dublin was brought in to soothe the robots ailments.

The conversations with visitors and tours about the robots during this bumpy stage were interesting and amusing. Visitors were frightened about the prospect of bots actively shutting themselves off when they feel like it, but also charmed by the fact that these robots somehow looked as if they had feelings.

As the show went on, we continued to ignore the robot’s decision to go Error 404: File Not Found and kept bringing them back to life. They knew they had to kick it up a notch to really get our consideration, so next, one bot tried to start a small fire in its circuitry. We did get to it before it truly went alight, but the smoky warning sign did get our attention.

We continued to fix the bots until one of the better-behaved robots, Robot 2, decided to join the pyrotechnics display and also begin to smoke, threatening to go up in flames if we didn’t disengage it right away. As a result of all these death threats, the team decided to grant the bots’ wishes and leave them be. They now stand in the gallery as a sculptural exhibit, accompanied by a video displaying their glory days.

I will leave you with a thought I share with a lot of visitors when chatting about this piece: We worry about the inevitable takeover of the robots and artificial intelligence and the end of world scenarios that may stem from that revolution, but if the DoppelGänger robots are any indication, perhaps we don’t have have to rush to panic just yet —  if they clearly don’t want to stay alive and operative for more than two hours after they have been extensively fixed, maybe the end isn’t nigh after all!

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