Penryn robot creators answer questions on AI and the future of robotics

Alex Hughes speaks to Will Jackson about his company Engineered Arts, artificial intelligence and robots.

What do you do at engineered arts?

Engineered Arts Ltd was founded by Will Jackson in 2005. Will did a foundation in Art and design at Falmouth Arts School, as did both his Mother and Father , Susan and Peter Jackson. Will’s daughter Saskia also completed a foundation course in Art and Design at Falmouth. At Engineered Arts we combine creative skills with advanced technical research and development to produce world leading humanoid robots. We believe that there is no division between science and art – there is a continuum of creative fields that span all areas. Divisions are an artificial construct created to confuse or exclude others.

Who do you sell the robots to?

Our robots can now be found in more than 25 countries around and world, NASA use one our RoboThespians at Kennedy Space Center to meet and communicated with visitors.
Typical users include Science museums and visitor attractions; we also sell to universities around the world who use our robots as a research platform. UCL in London, Bristol Robot Lab, Greenwich University, Barcelona University and universities in the USA and Asia use our robots. Commercial users use our robots to give presentations at trade shows and exhibitions. We have also produced theatre plays with robots, Spillikin a play featuring one of our robots developed by Pipe Line Theatre Company, was nomination for a Best of Edinburgh award in 2015. We have a permanent robotic theatre featuring three robots on stage installed at Copernicus Science Center in Warsaw Poland. RoboThespian and ‘Gemma Bot’ a robotic humanoid we collaborated on for the Channel 4 series ‘Humans’ will be appearing in an upcoming show at the Science Museum in London which opens in February this year.

How long do the robots take to make?

We typically make robots in batches of 20 and they will last for about 18 months,there are around 2300 parts in a robot and it would not be practical or economical to make one at a time.

What are the limitations you face with the robots?

Our robots have always been conceived as communication and entertainment device, they are not designed for utility tasks like cleaning the floor or washing the dishes. Making an expensive machine to so low paid and dull work is not a very good business idea. We are most interested in the experience people have when interacting with one of our robots, to that end we are working on automated speech recognition and conversation – but it’s extremely difficult to do well.




What do you think, as a company about people’s fear of robots becoming intelligent?

Let’s be clear, Robots are not AI and AI is not a robot.
But where does this myth come from? AI is in fact, quite an abstract idea, as hard to define as the notion of intelligence itself. This presents a problem to our media, who are generally hard of thinking.
They do not deal well with abstract ideas and complexity. Almost every news and magazine article about AI features a humanoid robot like RoboThespian as the headline image.

In fact the scariest AI you will come across today doesn’t look like me at all.
If you want to know what it looks like you can see it at this URL:
no need to type anything in the search box, you have already seen it. Imagine a database that holds a record of every item or idea you every searched for online, every online purchase you ever made, every You Tube video you watched, every Tweet you made or read. Every picture you looked at. Imagine taking that data for millions of people, finding patterns and making predictions about what will happen next. Imagine how profitable that would be in a society driven by consumption, where every click on a product has value. Current market capitalization of Google Inc is about 400 Billion dollars. Or in a darker reality, imagine how useful it would be to a political master who doesn’t like your ideas, and wants to know where you live. AI is technology like any other.

It is neither good nor bad, it has no moral compass, no conscience, no feelings. It neither loves nor fears anyone. It is a calculation, some numbers go in, some numbers come out. That’s it.
The danger to us all is not AI, it is in fact HS

Human Stupidity

Before we unleash any powerful technology what we should really ask is:
Are we confident that we are able to use this power wisely?


What do you think is the future of AI?

AI will get better but don’t hold you breath, we at least 10 years away from a conversation computer, that would be any fun to interact with beyond a trivial level.


In your opinion will robots become an everyday part of people’s lives in the future?

They already are, they are just not human shaped.


What are your future plans as a company?

Improve incrementally and grow organically, tackle difficult problems with human interaction and produce engaging and compelling experiences for people. What we do has always had a large creative dimension, we are as much an arts company as a science and technology one. We will continue on our unending missing to explore new boundaries and boldly go where no robot maker has been before.

What is your greatest achievement as a company?

Not going bust in the last 12 years is a pretty big achievement, many other robot companies have come and gone in that time. Generally they didn’t understand what people wanted or value, or where wildly over optimistic about what their robots could do.