"We do not enforce special programming to have the robot do this or that during each piece," Manfred Hild, whose lab designed, built, and programmed Myon, told The Post. "We let it be itself. We just followed our research track, which was figuring out how to control the body and how to give the robot episodic memory, and we came together and figured out what could be used in the piece."
The results, Hild admits, might be disappointing for an audience used to the robots of science fiction. But his team was thrilled by how much the robot was able to learn during its rehearsals, which involved two years of performers teaching Myon specific actions and behaviors. When rehearsals started, Myon didn't have much of anything to do on stage.
“He was sitting in front of us on a chair and that was it. He could do nothing more than just sit and stare at us,” performer Bernhard Hansky told Motherboard. “But in these last two years, he’s acquired knowledge about human behaviours and he is now able to do stuff by himself.”
Now Myon can react to certain visual cues, allowing him to "pay attention" to certain action on stage. He can also dance and sing, ish.
Myon isn't following a script, but he does pick up on certain cues: If someone turns his arm a certain way, for example, he might remember that he's entering one scene or another and execute a certain movement or song. In one part of the opera -- which is about the singers teaching Myon about emotions a la "My Fair Lady" -- Myon conducts a particular piece of music. It's a behavior he's been taught, and certain prompts will remind him to "remember" it on cue.
"This can of course get scrambled," Hild said, explaining that Myon occasionally conducts faster or slower than the human musicians would like. They have no choice but to keep up.
But that's kind of the point. Hild wants the audience to get inside Myon's head, not to watch him perform feats of wonder.
"It's not a freak show where he comes out and lifts things," he said. "We are playing with senses, memories and learning ."
Hild and his team enjoyed working with the opera company, but after the show's final performance on Sunday they'll be taking a big break from showbiz.
"We'll be focusing on our research again, and taking the next few months to really look at the memories the robot was able to gather," Hild said.
The next big step is teaching Myon to communicate in some way or another. Hild wants to know when Myon has made a connection -- he wants some way for the robot to tell him that it's using a specific memory to inspire its current behavior.
"This is the next thing," he said, "To get all that information they put in back out of the robot."