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Hacking the Android Circuit

Bob Moyler is bringing his adaptation of Tom McGrath's sci-fi comedy, The Android Circuit, to the CCA in Glasgow on Thursday 15 June. In a unique fusion of science and theatre, audiences will witness performances by humanoids and non-humanoids alike. We hacked Bob's neural networks to find out more about the production, his inspiration, and the challenges of working with robots...

Hacking the Android Circuit

Firstly, would you introduce us to your co-stars?

The cyborg cast of Hacking The Android Circuit is made up of three humanoid performers (myself, Susan Robertson and Andrew Scade), one non-humanoid performer (the iRobot Roomba 533), and a text generating recurrent neural network, Torch-rnn. This core is supported by a number of additional networked devices.

The iRobot Roomba 533 has been my semi-autonomous research partner since 2015 having previously been a vacuum cleaner. The robot was liberated from its prior function by having its vacuum parts removed. A longer life battery has given the iRobot Roomba 533 a new purpose as theatrical performer.

Hacking the Android Circuit

Torch-rnn is an artificial intelligence originally created by Justin Johnson of MIT. After being open sourced on Github the neural network was free to engage with new and exciting projects. For Hacking The Android Circuit, Torch-rnn has trained on three different versions of the play. During the performance the AI creates new text from the original scripts for the cast to perform.

To the best of my knowledge, myself, Andrew and Susan are all human.

Tell us a bit about the play which inspired this work?

Tom McGrath's play The Android Circuit is a science fiction comedy originally written in 1978. Astro exists in his space capsule with his companion Sylvester. The two of them are joined by a female android named Ruby Pulse. Ruby asks Astro to open the android circuit by having sexual intercourse with her. The play explores technology, what it means to be human, and the thin line dividing one from the other.

Hacking the Android Circuit

I first discovered the play in the Scottish Theatre Archives and was initially excited by the prospect of Ruby Pulse as a non-humanoid robot vacuum. Working on this project and meeting with folk who knew and were close to Tom McGrath has given me an immense sense of respect for the man and his work. From those I have spoken with I get the impression that he was a top bloke, I would've loved to have had the chance to meet him.

Writing in the 70s, McGrath said he felt theatre was lagging behind in its reflection of technology. Do you think that’s still true?

In some ways, yes. We are seeing an increasing number of robots performing as robots on the stage. These robots are almost always humanoid. The idea of working with a vacuum cleaner and open source software came from the fact that most of the robots we interact with in our daily lives are non-humanoid.

The audience was wary. They did not like science fiction, they said. There were lots of preconceived notions to break down.- Tom McGrath, talking to TES in 1998

(Read the full TES interview with Tom McGrath from 1998 - Science: can it be art?)

What challenges does staging a “collaborative cyborg performance” present?

The main challenge is control. It is almost impossible to relinquish all human control. As soon as we bring a robot in to the space we are making decisions beyond its control.

Plus technology couldn't care less about theatre.

Hacking the Android Circuit

How do you expect or hope audiences will react to the piece?

I'm expecting a mixed reaction. If you're planning on coming along and expecting to see a traditional re-presentation of Tom McGrath's play you might get a shock. This is an experimental piece, but don't worry, it will be a pleasant shock I hope.

What’s next for The Robot and Bob?

A Godard, Brecht, robo-hoover mash-up taking on the multi-nationals, or something political anyway.

Hacking the Android Circuit poster

The Robot and Bob's Hacking the Android Circuit appeared at Glasgow CCA on Thursday 15 June 2017. There was also a free pre-performance talk from Bob discussing collaborative cyborg performance, the processes behind Hacking The Android Circuit, coincidence and contingency, and the joy and pain of working with humans and hoovers.

Hacking the Android Circuit was supported by National Lottery funding through Creative Scotland's Open Project Fund.

All images courtesy of Bob Moyler.

This article was published on 27 Jun 2017