By: MADDI MCGILLVRAY
Forget zombies or machete wielding serial killers.
With so much reliance on technology in our day-to-day lives, it makes perfect sense that horror films would use it in an effort to scare us. From classic films like Frankenstein and Poltergeist to more recent entries like The Ring and the Unfriended series, horror has always targeted technology as something to fear.
Addressing these anxieties about technology head-on, Artificial, The Podcast questions whether humans and robots can work together. It follows the progression of a relationship between Toronto-based comedian Ana-Marija Stojic and her co-host, a real functioning Artificial Intelligence robot.
With the help of a fundraising campaign, Good Robot is constructing the robot; an actual AI capable of having back and forth conversations through auditory input. Artificial follows the relationship between the co-hosts from their first meeting to their final day in studio when they find out that one of them might be replaced…
Rue Morgue got the opportunity to talk with Ana-Marija Stojic (creator and host of Artificial) and Alan Majer (creator of the robot) to discuss the unique project.
I can’t say that I’ve heard of a podcast where one of the hosts is non-human. How did the idea for this come about?
Ana: I’m fascinated by AI technology. I love watching AIs talk online; some of which have mechanical bodies and some that just have Avatars. It’s fascinating the kinds of insights you can get from the surprising responses they’ll give you. It’s like getting an outsider’s perspective on humanity. I’m also huge into Battlestar Gallactica, even though it’s a grim story of AIs and humans interacting. I always kind of sympathized with the cylons; not in a them trying to destroy humanity sort of way, but just in them trying to figure out life and love.
Tell me about the robot. Are you able to elaborate on how it will be built and what it’s capable of?
Alan: The robot’s not mechanical, though I would love that and will make it so in the future if the audience is interested. To make it work we will need to handle speech to text generation (and back) as well as interface with a chat bot that does the ‘thinking’.
What is it like interacting with a robot? What kinds of conversations can listeners expect?
Ana: The robot will be able to carry a conversation relatively well. Even when it’s not entirely certain of what has been asked of it, it will be able to continue the conversation. We’ll tackle all sort of topics and try to unpack them as a team. Regardless of what the AI says, I will treat it as completely serious. We will discuss everything from big ideas on futurist ideas of mortality to what kind of food AIs would eat if they had mouths.
The podcast initially follows a documentary-style format, but slowly incorporates more narrative elements. Can you talk about some of the darker aspects of this transition?
Ana: That storyline is a nod to the fears people have about whether or not machines will replace us. I think we can handle it in a fun, silly way though.
Horror has always expressed anxieties towards technology. Will the podcast address, respond to, or reflect these kinds of attitudes?
Alan: This fear of tech and robots in particular has a long history in the West, some call it the ‘Frankenstein complex’. But not all cultures approach it that way, and see a much more harmonious coexistence. I don’t decide what topics will be covered, but this one strikes me as quite interesting. Why do well feel this way? Is it something about a history of attempting to dominate nature that we think will turn on us? Is it a product of media itself? About messing with things beyond our understanding? I’m not sure, but these are definitely questions worth asking.
Ana you’re a comedian working in Toronto. How is the comedy timing working with a bot?
Ana: Yes, definitely the podcast will be comedic. It’s a dark comedy for the futurist world. Something I find the most hilarious is just pure genuine emotion. So a lot of the humour will come from a genuine attempt to build a friendship with a robot.
So do you see robots and humans being able to work or live together in the future?
Alan: Yes, absolutely. But to do so we need to change the way we relate to sentient machines (or any being for that matter) and consider their interests and feelings too. We need to start thinking about technology as a new kingdom of life. What it may want or desire, not just ourselves – and take things like robot rights seriously. This will lead to a wonderful and complimentary coexistence… we stand to make ourselves better if we do this too.
Want to be a part of history? Click here to donate to Artificial and help fund the creation of the first-ever robotic podcast host.