A Robot Film Festival

After spending years building robots at MIT’s Media Lab and doing stints at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Heather Knight is now a PhD student in social robotics at Carnegie Mellon. She just started a new project “to explore modern relationships between mankind, technology and nature.”  Sounds relevant but a bit dry and nerdy, except of course Ms Knight founded a company cheekily called Marilyn Monrobot, has a sidekick called Data who does standup comedy everywhere from the stage at TED Women to Union Square in New York, and is venturing to understand human-machine relationships through a decidedly un-nerdy medium: a Robot film festival!


On July 16-17 this week in New York City, both man and machine will walk the red carpet at the Three-Legged Dog in Lower Manhattan to participate in the world’s first Robot Film Festival. According to the organizers:

"The big finale on Saturday is a black-tie event (think Robot Oscars) following the screening all the films on July 16. Prior to the red-carpet awards ceremony, festival-goers will be treated to interactive art and technology installations curated by students at the Interactive Telecommunications Program of NYU, a cocktail party and human robot performances. During the awards ceremony, attendees will learn to “do the robot” from L.A.-based robot dance professional Josh Ventura."

Heather Knight, also a Fellow at the Hybrid Reality Institute, is one of the few people in the increasingly important study of human-technology relationships who remembers to put fun and creativity in intellectual research. Yet one only needs to look at a toddler flipping nonchalantly through pages on an iPad to know that children feel intuitively far more familiar with machines than we do. We can’t possibly conceive the world in which we’ll live with machines, a hybrid reality that we can only imagine through fiction and drama. Heather believes that the mythologies we create through robot films will in fact one day shape the way we live with them.  One of the films you’ll see in the Festival will in fact be a video created by middle school students in their Terrabotic program (created and administrated by the Science House Foundation). 

If you really want to imagine a future with robots, start with the Robot Film Festival. It’s already one of the most talked about events in the blogosphere.  Saturday is sold out but a few tickets are still available for Sunday here: http://robotfilmfestival.eventbrite.com/

Sunday's film-making workshop promises to be fun: participants are organized into interdisciplinary teams, in which they pull together a story and quickly shoot and edit the footage, all in a three-and-a-half hourperiod.  A gallery of the workshop films will be featured online alongside the award-winning films.

Enjoy! Follow the event on Twitter: @robotfilmFest

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A map of America’s most famous – and infamous

The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity

Image: The Pudding
Strange Maps
  • Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
  • And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
  • If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist

Chicagoland is Obamaland

Image: The Pudding

Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.

Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).

The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.

The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.

How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."

‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'

Image: The Pudding

Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.

That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.

The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.

The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".

Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.

Royals and (other) mortals

Image: The Pudding

There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.

Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.

But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.

Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).

Freaks and angels

Image: Dorothy

The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.

It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.

Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...

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Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.

Image: Abel Suyok
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