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A Man Wanted a Robot to Dance With So He Built Himself a Partner

2 minute read

For years, Taiwanese choreographer Huang Yi has turned a robot into a graceful dance partner in his surprising, stirring performance duets. Highlighted by TED Talks for his work with the robot he conceptualized and programmed — named Kuka — Huang’s latest video suggests an alternate end game for artificial intelligence: as a friend, not an enemy.

“As a child, Huang Yi longed for a robot companion,” TED Talks notes of his inspiration to pursue this path. “As an adult, he created a robot to dance with: Kuka.”

Set to an evocative cello piece by Joshua Roman, the melancholic dance sees the two partners mirroring each other’s actions and playing off each other’s emotions. As Huang extends his arm skyward, Kuka’s mechanical appendage echoes him. As Huang leans toward the robot in an extension, Kuka offers a supportive metal arm to ground him. At one point, Kuka reaches out — tenderly, it seems — to clasp his hand, and later to lift his chin from its defeated downward tilt. With Huang wearing a simple dark suit and set in a blackened stage with only a spotlight to highlight the two, it’s a pas de deux of unexpected poetry, spare and intimate.

This is just the latest in Huang’s history of collaboration with Kuka, for which he’s been well-reviewed over the years. Check out the unusual dance, above.


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Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com