What India saw in ‘Robot’ (‘Enthiran’) and its sequel ‘2.0’, both starring Rajinikanth, has become a reality now, with Erica, world’s first fully autonomous artificially created intelligent actor (robot), created by famed humanoid roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, along with fellow scientist Kohei Ogawa. Here are 10 interesting things about Erica.
Erica was created by Hiroshi Ishiguro, a roboticist at Osaka University in Japan, to be ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’. He modeled her after images of Miss Universe pageant finalists — and the most humanlike robot in existence. But she’s more than just a pretty face: When she makes her debut, producers believe it will be the first time a film has relied on a fully autonomous artificially intelligent actor.
The film Erica will star in is simply called b, and is being backed by Bondit Capital Media, which previously financed titles including Oscar-nominated Loving Vincent.
Despite her flawless features and easy smile, her pupils are clearly plastic. Her synthesized British voice has a slight metallic tone that sounds like she’s speaking into a pipe. When she walks, the motion of her air compressor joints makes it look as though she’s performing either a sped-up or slowed-down version of the robot. For that reason, a majority of her scenes will be filmed while she’s sitting down. But she does have one advantage over the Margot Robbies and Brad Pitts of the world: She’s immune to the coronavirus.
Ishiguro developed Erica with the goal of creating an android that people wouldn’t just relate to, but also confide in and feel affection for. According to him, the more humanlike he could make her appear, the more people would trust her. When he unveiled her in 2015, she was the most advanced of the dozens of androids he had produced over his career that have performed in plays, sung in malls and even delivered the news. Sam Khoze of LIFE Productions, was looking for an android to headline a feature film in 2017, he entertained pitches from several robotics companies. But the moment he met Erica, Khoze said he knew she was their star, because she ‘really looks like a human’ including such small details as her tongue and eyelids.
In the story, which was written by Khoze, Eric Pham, the visual effects supervisor, and Tarek Zohdy, Erica plays an artificially intelligent woman, b, who can surge into the body and mind of any human host. The film follows her creators’ efforts to gain control of her as she becomes self-aware. But while she awaits her human counterparts, Erica is rehearsing. There’s just one problem: She has no emotional memories.
When Helderman initially met her, Erica’s acting chops were nonexistent. At first, she didn’t understand what acting was. It was like teaching a child why we respond the ways we do. The team taught her how to perform over more than two years of daily sessions using what Helderman calls a ‘Marlon Brando’ method. Some stars might draw on their own experiences to create a character, but they instructed Erica to emulate other actors’ performances. Actors explained out loud how they were feeling in each scene to Erica.
Their biggest challenge was hardly memorization — she immediately mastered her lines. But it took her months to grasp the concept of not just reciting a line, but speaking it softly or in full voice depending on the context, and bolstering the words with body language. They taught her the dialogue for a scene in one session, then worked on the emotions, character development and body language in another.
While she awaits co-stars, Erica continues to run lines with amateur local actors. The script calls for three supporting human lead actors, but the makers are also looking at several other robots for supporting roles and are in negotiations to hire a robot for a crew position.
She speaks both English and Japanese, and can talk to a stranger in Japanese for 10 minutes on more than 80 topics. But they’re still working toward conversations that are deeper or involve multiple people. Given that Erica has no emotions of her own, she would have to rely on the algorithm integrated into her operation to simulate whatever emotions are required.
Erica was originally set to debut in a different project that was to have been directed by Tony Kaye (American History X), but producers parted with Kaye over scheduling. The director of b and the human co-star for Erica are not yet attached, but producers filmed some of her scenes in Japan in 2019. They expect to shoot the rest of b in Europe in June of 2021.
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