Android Alter 3 Sings Its Way Into Our Consciousness
Written by David Conrad   
Sunday, 08 August 2021

How can robots help us understand the meaning of human life? This theme has been explored in works of fiction ever since Karel ńĆapek coined the term. This month sees the world premiere in Japan of a new opera "Super Angels" starring the android Alter 3.

The life size Alter 3, an android developed for the purpose of examining the potential of communication with humans, has earned a name for itself in Japan and overseas for its singing and conducting. It is the creation of a research project inaugurated by mixi Inc and involving the Ishiguro laboratory of Osaka University, responsible for the physical form of the android and Alife (artificial life) research pioneer Ikegami Laboratory of the University of Tokyo which contribute the android's "mind". The current project is also supported by Warner Music Japan.

The new opera "Super Angels" is designed to be enjoyed by both adults and children, "Alter 3", equipped with artificial life, sings and plays while interacting with the chorus of various children. By integrating androids and children, opera singers and choirs, ballet dancers and orchestras, images and designs the audience is invited into a world with the theme of science and technology and coexistence.

On of the main challenges for the ongoing research is whether or not it is possible for robots to acquire a sense of life independently through interactivity with the outside world, and to answer the basic question of exactly what life is:

The aim of the project is to use Alter 3 to accelerate research into models able to display behavior that makes it feel as if they are alive based on the knowledge acquired during development and research into the Alter androids studied up until now.

Alter 3 is equipped with a sensor system and facial expression functions that are closer to human capabilities than its two predecessor models by installing cameras in both eyes and incorporating a voice function that operates through the mouth.  Its output capabilities are an improvement on Alter 2, giving better bodily expression and responsiveness, thereby enabling dynamic movement.

Another point of evolution achieved with Alter 3 is the fact that it can be dismantled and reassembled by non-experts, and that it is portable enough to be transported by airplane.

There are to be two matinee performances of Super Angels, an opera in 1 Act, to be sung in Japanese with English and Japanese surtitles on  August 21st and 22nd at the Opera Palace of the New National Theatre, Tokyo. Alter 3 previously toured to Germany and the UAE in performances of Scary Beauty, another work by the composer Shibuya Keiichiro and was also exhibited at London's Barbican Centre so given its new portability perhaps Super Angels will also get an international hearing.

As the New National Theatre, Tokyo states in its publicity materials:

The arrival of Alter 3 will send a message into the future of art, music and science through a new style of communication between humans and androids.


More Information

Alter 3

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 08 August 2021 )