Category Archives: Innovation

Robotics: Can Data Make You Funnier – Cannes Lions csuitepodcast with Dr Heather Knight & DigitasLBi

In the first part of my final csuitepodcast from Cannes Lions, I spoke with Social Roboticist, Dr Heather Knight and DigitasLBi’s Chief Creative Officer International, Chris Clarke.  My two guests had presented together at the Festival’s Inspiration Stage alongside Heather’s comedian robot sidekick, Ginger, in a session entitled ‘Can Data Make You Funnier?’, which aimed to look at how data and technology can act as catalysts and enablers for creativity.

Chatting with Chris Clarke and Dr Heather Knight

Chatting with Chris Clarke and Dr Heather Knight

Heather explained that the key theme of their presentation was that technology should be more than functional and Chris added that it was quite timely given we see so many headlines about the dangers of the Robot Future, with the idea that robots will replace humans.  Whilst it’s therefore understandable that many people get concerned that robots will put them out of a job, Heather said that this is referring to old fashioned robotics, which is simply about automation, whereas she is interested in more innovative use of technology where robots can work alongside people.

Chris said that the questions they were therefore asking was whether or not it is possible to code for kindness or generate empathy with a robot, which is what he believes Ginger demonstrates.  He feels that companies tend to prioritise efficiency in the use of technology, but he questioned whether this was the best goal.

As to why build a comedian robot, Heather said that she is trying to solve the complex problem of how you model people, which of course is not a single line of code!  She has therefore been looking at acting training and dance, because when you look at human performers, they have a lot of insight in how you craft characters and relationships over time.  She wanted an excuse to work with people who were in that format and wondered what could a robot do on stage by itself, and eventually decided on stand-up comedy because she thought that if technology could apologise sometimes, or make fun of itself, then we would be happier people.

Heather said humour is mostly about surprise so when she started, she thought it would be as simple as just teaching the robot a good joke.  But she soon realised that’s not quite true as a lot of comedy is about storytelling, the audience listens and is drawn in, so she had to ensure that the voice came from the robot.  It therefore makes sense for a robot to be telling jokes about its sensors or audience perception!

She started with a database of jokes that Ginger would randomly cue them and look for feedback, but as she’s learned more about the structure of comedy and storytelling, it’s become more planned, but with moments of serendipity.

Ginger The Robot

Ginger The Robot

Heather said that once on stage, the comedian is the ringleader who puts the audience in their place – particularly to hecklers for example. She said when she spoke to comedians in her research, they said that the audience is not in charge.  Chris added that even some of the most famously spontaneous comedians like Eddie Izzard, if you see their show in five different cities, it’s the same show and even the responses to the hecklers are often the same.  This is why he thinks this area is relevant to brands as they know they have to form relationships with customers, which they do through CRM, but it comes across very ‘robotic’, in the pejorative sense – something Heather hopes will one day be a complement.  Chris therefore believes that brands can therefore learn from Ginger, as he said it is possible to have an automated programme that feels human, that is self-deprecating and charming, it is not just about pure efficiency and moves away from doing tasks for people and is more towards having a real relationship.

I mentioned that when I was at the Globalisation & Localisation Association’s annual conference that took place in Amsterdam a few months earlier, their opening keynote speaker, Thimon de Jong talked about how robots could be used in roles such as on reception or as a concierge in a hotel.  Heather agreed and added that they could also be used for room service, but warned customers that they need to remember the robots will still have a camera, so guests shouldn’t thinkin they can remain naked when the robots bring the food or drink to their room!!

The Cannes Lions episodes of the csuitepodcast were sponsored by Capstone Hill Search.

Thanks to ICCO for allowing us to carry out the interviews in their House of PR.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the websiteSoundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!