The I, Awake mission is to fulfill Larry Harvey's vision of a massive, interactive Robot Man experience for Burning Man in 2018 and support a community to realize transcendent art and culture with science and technology through 2019 and beyond.
What are we building?
In honor of the I, Robot theme and with Larry Harvey’s vision guiding us, the I, Awake team is manifesting an intelligent robot that will transcend the traditionally static role of an installation and become a participant itself.
The robot will interact with participants as much as they interact with it. Through gesture, emotion and movement, communication between the robot and its human counterparts will be enabled.
We are building a compassionate AI to explore our humanity.
The massive humanoid will become a permanent, collaborative fixture on the playa, bridging the present and the future and creating a cultural focal point for guiding the conversation around artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction and humanity’s relationship with our technology. We believe this bridge to be everlasting.
Why are we building it?
As we move forward into a time of ever more complex and intelligent technology, there is a dire need to take a hard look at how our technology serves us and impacts us socially, culturally, and philosophically.
We want to promote and empower a positive and compassionate relationship between man and machine.
By creating and sharing this message, we will mobilize a new generation of thinkers, makers, and artists that will use technology as an artistic medium.
The Robot Man
At Burning Man 2017, Cheryl Edison connected Larry Harvey and Patrick Deegan under the Tree of Tenere (co-created by Patrick), and the three began to explore what Patrick’s robotics and interactivity expertise could bring to the playa. They connected over the power of direct experience and architecture to shape culture and sought to create a Man experience that stirred empathy in those in its presence. Fascinated by mirror neurons, murmurations, and the concept of mimicry, they agreed that an animated and intentional man could take participant interactions to entirely new levels.
Larry and the initial team gathered many times to workshop ideas on how to use technology mindfully to highlight humanity and create a collaborative space for exploration. Concerns surfaced around how big of a role technology should play on the playa and how we can start this conversation while respecting the authenticity of the experience.
Larry’s vision was to empower the next generation of artists, innovators, and creators to harness technology to shift, evolve, tear down and build up culture and usher us into what promises to be the wildest period of human history yet. As we move forward into an ever more technological world, it’s essential that we develop a healthy, symbiotic relationship with the machines we are creating. To this end, the Robot Man project was born.
Evolution of I, Awake
The earliest brainstorming sessions produced a Robot Man concept that could change poses and move around. The Robot man could even crouch down and express reverence, participating with those standing around. The idea was to create the experience of approaching the man, both realizing each other is a magnificent and seemingly conscious creature that looked back at you, engaging in creating a sense of mutual reverence.
Last year’s Man stood within a temple. You were placed into a state of reverence upon entering, and your head tilted backward to take in the entire scene, sometimes forcing a step back. This balancing act was essential to creating the sense of wonder felt by those viewing the Man.
Inspired by the effect, the I, Awake concept for 2018 was to recreate this state of reverence but via a simultaneous empathetic experience involving both man and machine. The robot would react, gesture and even step toward visitors to summon emotion and acknowledgment.
Larry wanted to take the Man to a place it had never gone before, and his approach was to deepen engagement with the man through real-life interaction while being situated and embodied on the playa.
We talked about the potential of the man as a participant, capable of honoring The 10 Principles. We discussed the emergence of machine intelligence and the potential for this technology to shine a spotlight on our humanity, but only if we engage in a manner that is respectful of the machine and its AI as well of the intelligence of the humans involved.
The Design Process
The most radical version of Larry's robot (that was explored through scale models and concept animation) incorporated a full step of the 40-foot man towards the participants. With the robot suspended from above, it was a truly breathtaking and humbling approach.
The initial robot design included overhead cables to suspend most of the weight, with large motors in the arms, legs, and head to fully animate the traditional man and to let the man walk freely around its center platform. This free movement was essential to giving the robot a feeling of vulnerability, of balancing (possibly falling) and supporting itself, opening the door to a human connection.
Over the last several months, the robot's design and function have been in constant iteration and workshopping. Technical feasibility, impact, and opportunity for community participation have been our guiding metrics, and we believe we have achieved harmony with the latest approaches for 2018 and 2019
I, Awake in the Now
With Larry’s passing and the further evolution of the mission and vision, the I, Awake robot has transitioned to an independent project, a gift to the playa from a team of passionate engineers and visionaries.
Support has been growing steadily, progress is being made on all fronts, and the dream of an interactive, intelligent robot becomes more a reality with each day. With community involvement and support, the I, Awake project will become a permanent, collaborative installment, a guardian and guide into the digital age, and an embodiment of Larry’s eternal presence on the playa.
We genuinely appreciate your support of our effort to fully realize Larry’s vision.
Patrick Deegan, PhD Founder, Lead Artist and Roboticist