Auslander's robot

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Abstract

In a challenge to our notions of what constitutes live performance, Philip Auslander illustrates his discussion through the technology of the ‘chatterbot’. Auslander intimates that the ontological origin of the performer is not of primary importance when deciding whether or not a performance can be considered ‘live.’ To explore this crisis, I propose that we imagine a hypothetical machine, a theoretical construct inspired by Auslander's suggestion that machines are capable of live performance; this machine, ‘Auslander's Robot,’ can be built to demonstrate the theories that Auslander has outlined in his work on performance, presence, resistance, liveness, and the postmodern body. Such a construct may give us a deeper understanding of these theories and a deeper understanding of the nature of live performance. In each of these instances, we find that a distinction must be made regarding such terms when used in a technological context against a cultural context; sometimes these categories intersect. Chatterbots destabilize notions of presence and liveness based on analog technology and the ontological status of the body; the Mars Rover is capable of performing resistance; autonomous robots such as those built by the MIT Humanoid Robotics Group are capable of demonstrating Auslander's principle of the postmodern body. This paper suggests that we define ‘performance’ as ‘the transmission of cultural content’ (or ‘liveness’) and define ‘theatre’ as ‘the transmission of cultural content through the medium of the body’ (or ‘lifeness’).

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