unjapanologist: (Default)
unjapanologist ([personal profile] unjapanologist) wrote2012-03-09 12:44 pm

[watch this video] Kara

Social experiment: please watch the video before reading any of the text that follows it? There seems to be wide agreement that this is a moving and poignant short, but I'm curious to know exactly why different people find it poignant, so I don't want to impose my framing of what happens beforehand.

Kara (7min)



"Kara" is intended to show off the motion capture technology that will be used for some future games on the PS3. Reading the full article only after I'd watched the video, it struck me how my reaction to it was different from that of Cory Doctorow, whose introduction to the vid on Boing Boing was the only text I read before moving on to the video. He writes that "the unsettling poignancy of this clip arises from the gender and form of the robot". In the comments to that article (which are somewhat iffy in places), lots of people pipe up with where they think the poignancy came from, citing everything from the robot's appearance to her human-like reactions to the music. There's more interpretations in the comments on YouTube (which are iffier).

I found this moving as well, but I'm fairly sure that the "gender and form of the robot" had very little to do with my reaction. For me, this video was all about the story of Kara and the assembly worker, their interactions, and their relationship. Kara is certainly impressively human-like, the acting is good, the music helps, and so on, but all that just works to support what is essentially - for me - a character piece. Some Boing Boing commenters felt the story would have been stronger if the whole thing had been deliberate, a test to see if the robot was self-aware enough. While that might have been interesting, it's not my preferred interpretation, because it would interfere with my reading of this as two characters interacting. If it was all a set-up and the assembly worker's reactions were routine and fake, something he does twenty times a day with every robot he tests, that would mean these two characters didn't really connect. I want there to be shippiness everywhere, darn it.
angrymermaids: (Default)

[personal profile] angrymermaids 2012-03-09 05:22 am (UTC)(link)
I found it poignant from a sci-fi perspective. What if we eventually create a robot that has consciousness but not free will? Will anyone think that these robots deserve rights? What defines a human? She believes that she's alive, but I wonder how many others would agree. Is keeping one of these robots technically slavery? I would think so, but how many people wouldn't? And what about the assembly guy's insistence that Kara behave herself--what would she have to sacrifice to avoid being disassembled? If all the other robots are conscious as Kara is, then they might also have individuality, and that opens up a whole mess of stories that could spring from each one of the identical, boxed robots. What is it like to be aware but literally unable to act with your own agency? What's the life of one of these robots like? Can it even be considered "life"?

All of these questions keep attacking me, and it just gets worse and worse. Furthermore, what is the outside society like that gave birth to a market for all these Karas, not to mention the assembly guy?
angrymermaids: (Default)

[personal profile] angrymermaids 2012-03-09 06:44 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I felt that she was portrayed as undeniably human, and I didn't think of her as a machine either.

Looking back into this hypothetical world, the inevitable debate over whether or not Kara is a human would be hideous. There's the faction that thinks that humanity is determined by being born, i.e. an animal. Then there's the faction that thinks that the ability to think and reason like a human makes humanity. And then the one that thinks that free will, in addition to reason, makes humanity. And then eventually you'd have the robot separatists. And then those who believe that Kara is an abomination and that her creators are playing in God's domain, etc etc etc...

The assembly guy's "My God..." at the end actually made me think of Frankenstein once I thought about it for a second. I interpreted it as "My God, what have I done, I built something alive," and wondered if a Frankenstein-esque "I must destroy the abomination" followed. Eurgh. I'm freaking myself out. And then there's the question... if he had disassembled her, is she human enough for it to be considered murder? Maybe not from a legal standpoint, but what would the assembly guy have thought about doing it?

The whole idea of humanoid domestic robots creeps me out. I'm cool with domestic robots that look like, I don't know, a vacuum cleaner with arms (or whatever), but the idea that we'd want an unthinking slave that looks like us seems abhorrent.

(I have been thinking about this video all morning. Each question gives birth to more and more.)
samjohnsson: It's just another mask (Default)

[personal profile] samjohnsson 2012-03-09 05:55 am (UTC)(link)
I think the appearance of the robot has a little to do with it (compared to how it'd be if one of the arms "woke up"), but I think it's more the idea of the greater being more than the sum of the parts and a creator who accepts that said unplanned creation is not in fact flawed, but is something to at least let live. (Still some issues that he tells her (?) to pretend to be something she's not, but still.

I think there's something, also, about how she crosses the uncanny valley.
samjohnsson: It's just another mask (Default)

[personal profile] samjohnsson 2012-03-09 10:54 am (UTC)(link)
I think, with almost no effort at all, we can push this into a metaphor for divine creation. ^^

But yeah, what is the difference between the random firings that are cascade bugs and the random firings that are independent thought?
hl: Drawing of Ada Lovelace as a young child, reading a Calculus book (Default)

[personal profile] hl 2012-03-09 07:16 am (UTC)(link)
I've to say I certainly was more tense because of the gender, form, and purpose of the robot, and the fact that she answered too humanely -- i.e. it was a slave human being all the way, a woman, who would essentially, possibly, also be a sex slave. I wanted the robot to break free and kill the person in the assembly line, 'nice' guy as it seemed to be and flee.

Weirdly, I think I would have felt less tense and more up to taking it as a positive interaction if the person in the assembly line would've been a woman. Idk.

I also don't feel I know anything about the person in the assembly line, except that they were up to working in such a place, or of the robot -- I can extrapolate from her few words, but...

(I was also very bothered by the fact that I was expecting the robot to feel pain all the time -- otherwise how would she have felt anything?)

But I was also mostly moved by the music, I've to say. That sort of thing gets me every time. Edit cleverly anything to moving music, and you will have me crying. Though I didn't cry a lot with this one.
hl: Drawing of Ada Lovelace as a young child, reading a Calculus book (Default)

[personal profile] hl 2012-03-09 04:43 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't notice the music, as such! I mean, I now notice more, especially when I'm getting emotional and I don't quite get why -- my sister studies film, and on a lot of her classes she has to edit together film and sound, and I'm one of the people she turns to have 'hey, look at this and tell me what you feel/think' etc. But if I notice, it has less of an effect on me -- really, it's the stuff that is supposed to work below your consciousness.

It is a common trope (though I must say, I think I've only read ff with it -- robots as everything else, yes, that, no) -- I mean, looking at it, I had all the other robots and similar stories running through my mind.

One problem, to me, with the story, is that the robot is too human, too self aware. It bothers me at a level of -- you are doing something in an assembly line, all the same, why this one has such a spark? It skirts too close for comfort to positing a soul, that some of them will have and some will not, for no reason at all. She's too human for her context. (Something out of one of the Asimov stories would've worked better -- the robots that acquired consciousness through clear(er) means (an intern designing a more complex brain which required them to sleep, and this dream, etc).)

I don't know exactly why I would feel better if it it were a woman! I suspect I unconsciously expect such a character to be more sympathetic -- for example, to help the robot escape. It totally depends on the personality, but I guess my instinctual reaction is not to trust men with power over other people and to have more hope a woman wouldn't abuse that power.

It probably also bothered me and had me tense because the robot was naked -- I mean, I am sure they did that both to show off to player what a nice animation they would have at their reach, and to underscore the vulnerability of the character (along with the guys 'honey's), but I couldn't concentrate on the story because the character was so vulnerable, and I so wanted her to stop being so.

Idk -- I may be skewing your data, because I didn't find it all that moving, and it actually bothered me at several levels. I don't like the short so much, but I'm sure thinking to nominating it to yuletide so someone can write fix-it fic -- of the 'explain this' kind and of the 'damn make her escape' kind. /0\

zooey_glass: (Ani di Franco: God's work)

[personal profile] zooey_glass 2012-03-09 09:12 am (UTC)(link)
Here via my network. I think the gender of the robot had a lot to do with it for me, because as soon as she started in on the conversation about what was expected of her I felt like she really was just a woman. Cook and clean and take care of the kids and make yourself available for sex at any time, and above all, stay in line. I responded to the piece more as a metaphor for how we treat people as tools to be used, rather than as an exploration of what would happen if a tool to be used turned out to be a person, and that is something which particularly affects women (although by no means only).
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[personal profile] memories_child 2012-03-09 09:28 am (UTC)(link)
I responded to this from more of a sci-fi perspective as well, and it reminded me a lot of the film Bicentennial Man, with Robin Williams. I also wondered if the questions were a test to determine if the robot was self-aware enough, though I don't think I would have been as bothered as you may have been if that had been true.

In terms of the gender, I felt the same way as [personal profile] hl and that made the piece less poignant to me in a way.
memories_child: (Default)

[personal profile] memories_child 2012-03-09 09:35 am (UTC)(link)
The video also reminded me of the video someone created by putting Andy Huang's Dollface animation to aVNV Nation song called Illusion. The video can be found on Youtube and that never fails to make me cry.
memories_child: (Default)

[personal profile] memories_child 2012-03-09 11:20 am (UTC)(link)
Isn't it?!

Spoiler below.

Bicentennial Man is apparently based on the novel The Positronic Man (which I've never read) and is about "Andrew", a robot (played by Robin Williams) who is introduced into a household to perform housekeeping and maintenance duties. He shows himself capable of identifying and responding to emotions, and when he breaks a model belonging to one of the daughters carves a new one out of wood. His 'owner' takes him back to the manufacturer to find out if all the robots are like Andrew. The CEO of the company sees this ability to display emotion and create things as a problem and wants to scrap Andrew (similar to the assembly line worker in the video wanting to disassemble Kara). The owner, however, is angered by this attitude, takes Andrew home and encourages him to educate himself.

As the film progresses Andrew asks for his freedom and travels the world looking for other robots like himself. He doesn't find any and returns to the family, where he realises everyone he loves will die. He works with a robot designer to create mechanical equivalents of human organs, and falls in love with a human. Her life (and others) is prolonged by the organs that Andrew designs, but his application to be granted human status is denied because he can still live forever. He introduces blood to his system, which mean that he will age and eventually die (like all other humans) and at the end of the film is granted human status and his marriage to his human wife validated.

I think it's a very good film and raises lots of questions which the Kara video touches on, but doesn't explore.
memories_child: (Default)

[personal profile] memories_child 2012-03-09 02:06 pm (UTC)(link)
I have to admit I love Robin Williams. But despite my bias it is interesting. There is a female robot in the film as well so it will be interesting to see what you make of her. I won't say any more, but let us know what you think if you do get round to seeing it.
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[personal profile] samjohnsson 2012-03-09 05:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Drive-by: that VNV/Dollface video is amazing!
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[personal profile] copracat 2012-03-09 09:53 am (UTC)(link)
I found it horrific. The way the technician called her 'honey' even when he thought she was just a machine was, for me, a mirror of the real world where women are so often sold or indentured (for relatively little money) to do just what Kara is created very expensively to do.

I also thought that she had passed another test when the technician responded to her begging for her life, but it was clear from his final reactions that this was not the case.

All that said, I really like your interpretation. It is so much nicer than what I saw.

I meant to add, I would never use the word 'poignant' to describe this, even if the connection between Kara and the technician had been more in the forefront of the story.
Edited (added para) 2012-03-09 09:55 (UTC)
juniperphoenix: Fire in the shape of a bird (Default)

[personal profile] juniperphoenix 2012-03-09 12:04 pm (UTC)(link)
I didn't find the clip particularly moving. I thought it was very predictable up until the worker relented and had Kara reassembled (at which point I, too, suspected the whole thing might have been a test).

I also thought it seemed exaggerated, and I might have found it more affecting if it had been a little more subtle (e.g., sexism is already implicit in Kara's job description and the worker's dehumanizing attitude toward her; his calling her "baby" struck me as over the top and unnecessary. It made the worker seem like a caricature).
juniperphoenix: Fire in the shape of a bird (Default)

[personal profile] juniperphoenix 2012-03-09 02:13 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm sorry you had to deal with that. :(
samjohnsson: It's just another mask (Default)

[personal profile] samjohnsson 2012-03-09 05:59 pm (UTC)(link)
(In fact, minutes ago, one of those people - work colleague - sent me an email with a skin-crawlingly creepy and dehumanizing sexist joke in it, about me. No idea how to react, ugh. Need brain bleach.)

Forward it to HR?
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[personal profile] samjohnsson 2012-03-09 11:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Ugh. Hate that sort of corporate environment. Sympathies.
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[personal profile] facetofcathy 2012-03-09 03:03 pm (UTC)(link)
Wow, that was all gender and feminism for me. With a side order of a little more gender and some inverse feminism. Bearing in mind I am in a cranky state right now...

I'm with copracat and hl to a large degree. I didn't find it poignant, I found it bitterly ironic and yes, it made me feel tense and angry.

The opening where she comes alive, I saw that as all about how we (Westerners?) want our identity to be all of our making and control, not something that is riveted on from outside, and yet we don't really have that control and accepting that is hard.

Then when the man -- yes it would be way different if the tool of the patriarchy, er technician, were a woman -- starts providing her identity for her as a traditional woman who does a whole shit load of things I do all the time, I got squirmy. I want my life to be my choice, but I know it isn't all my choice.

When he says she's worth money, I got that I'm supposed to start thinking about how she's commodified, and how that's bad, but what I thought about was how careerist feminists only see value in women who have earnings. Wow, it's just all about me apparently!

I found the begging hideously uncomfortable, and desperately wanted her to take her right to life, not have to beg for it.

When she gets in line and says thank you, ughh, I wanted her to make some sign, some indication that she's not done stepping out of line. In my mind she's leading the revolution and technician dude doesn't make it to the show trial stage when its over.

The ending when the guy is boggling about what's changed in his world broke my suspension of disbelief because all I could think about, given the context, was some gamer dude saying, "Holy shit, man, chicks are people--what do we do now?"

Oh, and the bit where she's a sexbot, but she's got body modesty really made me role my eyes hard. Holy whore/madonna complex, batman. Even if that's just there to make it so they can pass ratings or whatever, it tells a whole story about attitudes to sex and bodies and women as people.
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[personal profile] foxinthestars 2012-03-09 03:03 pm (UTC)(link)
I did get misty, but for the poignancy, at some point I began to feel that it was because the writer was shamelessly playing me. Creating us this helpless innocent (and the sympathetic feel of innocent wonder does come through in the movements and reactions), threatening to kill her, and then rescuing her after all is a pretty basic way to emotionally manipulate your audience. I half suspect that her gendered form followed from that scenario rather than being responsible in itself; I think it would have been equally poignant (although with a somewhat different feel) had the android been male, but it's further from some cultural comfort zone to cast a male as the damsel. The fact that the operator changes his mind and puts her back together without saying anything about it for some time maybe reinforces the feeling that "okay, now they're giving me this sense of relief without wanting to resolve the tension just yet."
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[personal profile] kimboosan 2012-03-09 04:08 pm (UTC)(link)
There is a lot to unpack here and I think other commentators have addressed the issues of gender and feminism well -- that "she" is helpless, the voice addressing her is patronizing and male, etc.

But the poignancy for me, I realized, came from a sense of wonder at watching a live birth. I'm not a parent, never given birth, so from a personal perspective I can't say "I relate" but I think we all know the sense of amazement we feel when looking into the eyes of an infant. There is a sharp innocence there, a being in the process of being made, that is humbling and beautiful and yet somehow tragic: we are, after all, creatures born to die.

So from that standpoint I'm not sure the the robot's gender would have had much impact on me. Maybe? To me her fear of death was far less poignant or even interesting than her slow self-awareness.

Either way I think you've hit on the truly interesting part, which is the relationship between Kara and the Assembly Worker. There is tension there that is ripe for the picking; I wonder if he will track her or in some other way stay in her orbit. Shippiness? I can buy it!