“Alter 3” Becomes the First Robot to Conduct an Orchestra

Alter 3 Conducts

Keiichiru Shibuya is a Japanese composer who recently finished his orchestral piece, “Scary Beauty,” which premiered in the United Arab Emirates last week. However, it wasn’t Mr. Shibuya who was the one to conduct the orchestra, it was Alter 3, a humanoid robot. It was created by roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University and Mixi Corporation and is embedded with an artificial neural network developed by artificial life researchers of the University of Tokyo.

Like other well-known examples of AI and robots developed in the last few years, such as Hanson Robotics’ Sophia the Robot, Alter 3 both looks and moves like a human being. Its face is the most delicately formed body part, resting on a metal, machine-like body where all the technology can be seen working away as it conducts on the podium.

When asked about the composers wishes to have Alter 3 conduct, he said, “This work is a metaphor of the relations between humans and technology. Sometimes the android will get crazy, human orchestras have to follow. But sometimes humans can cooperate very comfortably.”

While Shibuya wrote the music, the android robot was in charge of the tempo and dynamics of the live performance, even adding its own electro-vocals to the mix.

The overall reception to the performance was lukewarm. Many audience members said that although they appreciated the energy of the performance, the overall human touch of Alter 3’s movements were, “lacking.” However, the audience as a whole did applaud with great enthusiasm at the end of the performance.

Android Opera Scary Beauty is part of Sharjah Art Foundation’s Sharjapan exhibition which highlights performance art and sound-based installations from Japan. The aim is to examine the interactions between nature, technology and human life in tandem.