3rd June 2013

How will you treat your robot house helper - as family, friend or slave?

How ethically we interact with robots is the focus of the first-ever Digital Writing Residency to attract funding from the Australia Council for the Arts.

Christy Dena has been awarded the six-month residency at The Cube, QUT's world-leading, large scale, high-definition interactive display environment.

In her Robot University project, Ms Dena will challenge our perceptions of robots by exploring our responsibility to build ethical and mutually-beneficial relationships with them.

"Whether we like it or not, we already rely on intelligent systems and it won't be long before robots are part of our everyday lives," Ms Dena said.

"Western entertainment often paints robots as killing machines bent on our demise and that's already influenced how we in Australia see robots.

"It's important that we consider the cultural impact of robots and how we interact with them now, so that we can better prepare ourselves for our ever-growing community of robots.

While writing residencies are common throughout the world, digital writing residencies are extremely rare and do not involve high-end technology suites.

Ms Dena said The Cube's world-leading technologies presented a unique opportunity to create a surprising journey through a highly-interactive visual and audio experience.

She and her team, including programmer Adam Single and sound composer Jacek Tuschewski, will use computer game engine Unity to create the interactive experience.

In Robot University, artificial systems are portrayed as another species and visitors are invited to learn with them.

A variety of robots will fill The Cube's high-definition display wall. The public will interact with them via touch screens and motion sensors.

"Research shows people react more sympathetically towards robots if they are introduced in a fictional setting," Ms Dena said.

"I'll be using linear and non-linear writing techniques to create a setting and strong robot characters.

"But rather than words eliciting emotional responses, visitors will feel emotions and gain valuable insights from interacting with these characters via The Cube's touch screens."

Ms Dena and her team will draw on the collective research of QUT's robotics experts for the project.

QUT Precincts Senior Curator Lubi Thomas said Ms Dena was chosen from a field of high-calibre proposals.

"We are very excited about this project and its implications for the wider community," Ms Thomas said.

"The arts play a critical role in introducing new ideas and scientific technological advancements to the wider community.

"Christy's residency takes the work of science-fiction greats like Isaac Asimov to a new level, as digital platforms offer new forms of narrative structure and storytelling including real-time interaction.

"There are noodle-making robots in more than 3000 restaurants across China.

"The robot revolution is already here - it's time we started talking about what that means for our society."

QUT's Digital Writing Residency is jointly funded by Australia Council and QUT.

Robot University is expected to be live at The Cube early next year.

Images of Ms Dena and The Cube are available in a flickr gallery.

Media contact: Kate Haggman, QUT Media, 3138 0358 or kate.haggman@qut.edu.au.

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