Robot Leads Human Musicians in Orchestra Performance

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13 February 2020

A robot has led human musicians during a live performance in the United Arab Emirates.

The robot, called Alter 3, has a human-like face and two long arms.

Video from the recent performance in the Emirate of Sharjah showed the machine turning to face orchestra members and waving its arms. Alter 3 even sang at times.

The performance was an opera called "Scary Beauty," created by Japanese composer Keiichiro Shibuya. He told Reuters news agency that the robot acted as the conductor by setting the speed and sound level of the performance.

Shibuya said the involvement of robots in the everyday lives of humans is continually increasing. But, he said he thinks people will need to decide in the future how artificial intelligence, AI, can best improve the human experience.

Shibuya added that he believes humans and robots can learn to work together to create beautiful art. "This work is a metaphor of the relations between humans and technology," he said.

Shibuya noted that sometimes the music-leading robot can "get crazy," making it difficult for the musicians to keep up. But other times, the humans and machines cooperate very well.

Shibuya said the robots and AI that exist today are "far from complete." He is interested in studying how such incomplete technology can be combined with art.

From those who witnessed it, the performance drew mixed reactions. "I think this is a very exciting idea...we came to see how it looks like and how much is possible," said Anna Kovacevic.

Another attendee, who gave his name only as Billum, said after the show: "You know, a human conductor is so much better." Although he said he is interested in AI and looks forward to big developments, he noted of the project: "the human touch is lost."

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English, with additional information from Tokyo's New National Theater. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

orchestra n. a large group of musicians who play different instruments together

composer n. someone who writes music

conductor n. person who leads a group of musicians or singers

artificial intelligence n. the development of computer systems with the ability to perform work that normally requires human intelligence

metaphor n. a way of describing something by comparing it with something else that has some of the same qualities

crazy adj. extremely enthusiastic or excited