Robot learns magic tricks for Netflix show, but won’t put human jobs at risk

MAGI grasped a silver cup between its two metal claws in one hand. With the other hand, the robot dropped a red ball the size of chewing gum into the cup.

A graduate student sat in the background, his hand hovering over an emergency stop button.

After some stiff waves on the cup for dramatic effect, MAGI flipped the cup over to reveal red confetti, the ball nowhere in sight.

MAGI was the upper half of an emergency response robot that could open doors and turn levers in dangerous situations. Now he sits in the corner of UCLA’s Robotics and Mechanics Lab, wearing a red bow tie and performing beginner-level magic tricks.

MAGI, which stands for Magic, Arts and Gaming Initiative, is one of many robots, whose robot marimba and dancing robotattempting to enter the entertainment industry.

“There are jobs that we generally thought were safe for humans, like creative jobs,” said Dennis Hong, RoMeLa’s lead researcher and an amateur magician. “Because of advances in artificial intelligence, robots will begin to take over jobs in these fields.”

(Liz Ketcham/Assistant Photo Editor) Some of MAGI’s accessories are modified so he can grab them with his claws.

But this robot still needs to master basic trick mechanics before it threatens jobs as a magician, said Matthew Williams, a graduate student at the lab.

“Robots are dumb whereas human movement is smart and there are a lot of complications that go into trying to create human movement,” Williams said.

Lab researchers built MAGI in a week to star in an episode of a Netflix show called “Magic for Humans,” which funded the project. During that week, graduate students spent more than 40 hours practicing the tricks and fixing parts when they broke.

Sometimes a cranked motor would fail while carrying heavy accessories. Sometimes an arm would shoot out uninvited, almost touching the graduating students. Once, the robot exhausted its motor by not grabbing anything.

“We’re dealing with a robot that potentially wants to break to get what we want it to do,” Williams said.

The robot performed its tricks well for the Netflix recording but lost an arm after just a few performances.

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(Liz Ketcham/Assistant Photo Editor) RoMeLa graduate students temporarily repair MAGI’s arm.

Justin Quan, another graduate student at the lab, said he thinks the robot could perform more complex tricks if researchers had more time and newer equipment. He said he might even be able to create his own towers using artificial intelligence.

Steve Spill, performer and founder of magic theater Magicopolis in Santa Monica, said he doesn’t feel threatened by robots like MAGI, even though they are capable of creating their own magic tricks.

“If you gave ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ to Bob Dylan or Taylor Swift, they would all sing the song and there would be a part of them in it. That’s what art is,” he said. he stated, “It has nothing to do with the stuff, it has nothing to do with the song, it’s about the performer.”

Hong said he thinks robots could eventually surpass magicians’ abilities in technically difficult tricks by adding features like extra fingers and hidden pockets.

However, he said part of the appeal of magic is understanding basic human limits and then watching the magician violate them in a trick.

“You assume ‘it’s a robot, it could have built things into it,'” Hong said. “It’s not fun because you’re assuming that (the robot) has greater abilities than the audience.”

Spill agreed, comparing it to magic on TV.

“You can’t help but think that maybe there’s a faked photograph or something happening off screen,” he said. “The same could be said of robots.”

Hong also said that successful magicians have many intangible qualities that robots will never be able to recreate.

“It gets into the realm of what artificial intelligence can and can’t do,” Hong said. “We have the technology to build robots that look like they have emotions, but I don’t believe we’ll be able to build a robot with real emotion.”

Brian L. Hartfield