Danc­ing with robots

Amer­i­can sci­en­tist hopes to make hu­mans part­ner­ing robots in a dance com­pe­ti­tion a re­al­ity.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - People - By MAJORIE CHIEW star2@thes­tar.com.my

HU­MANS part­ner­ing robots in a dance ... isn’t that such a cool idea?

Well, this will be pos­si­ble at the first Sil­i­con Val­ley World Cre­ative Robot Com­pe­ti­tion (SVWCRC). It will be held from Oct 6 to 8 at Sil­i­con Val­ley (San Jose), Cal­i­for­nia, the United States. Regis­tra­tion starts next month.

“It will be the first time hu­mans and robots dance to­gether in a com­pe­ti­tion,” said Amer­i­can sci­en­tist and au­thor Dr Lim Hwa Aun.

He is on a mis­sion to pro­mote the event and said that since the com­pe­ti­tion is the first of its kind, many peo­ple will find the idea quite novel. To date, re­sponse has been pos­i­tive.

Kedah-born Lim, 60, is chair­man of Unesco CID SFS, or­gan­iser of the com­pe­ti­tion, Lim, and was in Malaysia re­cently.

A dancer, he ex­plained, may hold a robot in the hand to cre­ate a cer­tain ef­fect. “Robots can do many great stunts and this will add a new di­men­sion to danc­ing,” ex­plained Lim.

Lim said the or­gan­is­ers are not only well­versed with robot tech­nol­ogy, but are ac­com­plished dancers too.

“Be­tween hu­mans and robots, the latter will beat hu­mans all the time!” he ex­claimed.

Lim is amused that some com­pet­i­tive dancers have al­ready “thrown in the towel” even be­fore com­pet­ing with robots.

“But what we’re en­cour­ag­ing is, in­stead of danc­ing against robots, hu­mans should part­ner them!”

Lim over­sees the in­ter­na­tional com­mit­tee of the com­pe­ti­tion. He gets renowned in­di­vid­u­als to join as par­tic­i­pants, ad­vi­sors, or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee mem­bers or spon­sors.

Cur­rently, the com­pe­ti­tion is tap­ping into its ex­ist­ing re­sources (from Lim’s and other com­mit­tee mem­bers’ net­works). Some of the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee mem­bers are from large high-tech com­pa­nies.

From dis­cus­sion to re­al­ity

More than three years ago, nov­el­ist Carmelita Chao pro­posed a pro­ject on robots to Lim. He was thrilled.

“Trends were al­ready head­ing the way of robots,” said Lim, how has au­thored 15 books. One of his books is about cloning which tack­les the sub­ject of how hu­mans would re­act to a clone or per­haps, a robot, in fu­ture.

His 2014 book, Mul­ti­plic­ity Yours talks about cloning, stem cell re­search and re­gen­er­a­tive medicine. In the clos­ing chap­ter, there is a sce­nario where two peo­ple are in an in­ti­mate con­ver­sa­tion; one dis­cov­ers that the other is a clone!

Said Lim: “How would the per­son re­act as the verisimil­i­tude (like­ness) of the clone gets closer and closer to a hu­man?”

Ac­cord­ing to him, ro­bot­ics is mov­ing for­ward so rapidly that it is im­mi­nent that robots will be a ma­jor part of the work­force.

“In the fu­ture, in­stead of talk­ing only about hu­man re­sources, we will have robot re­sources to com­pete against. This is al­ready hap­pen­ing. In fact, robots can be repli­cated and the like­ness to hu­mans is amaz­ing!” Lim con­ceded.

Af­ter dis­cus­sions over count­less cof­fee ses­sions, Chao and Lim agreed upon a cre­ative theme to pro­mote robots to the pub­lic – “through danc­ing, not only of robot danc­ing, but also hu­man-robot danc­ing”.

Be­tween Oc­to­ber 1987 and Novem­ber 1995, Lim was a tenured fac­ulty mem­ber and pro­gram di­rec­tor at Su­per­com­puter Com­pu­ta­tions Re­search In­sti­tute in Florida State Univer­sity. He has also done com­pu­ta­tional work at the John von Neu­mann Cen­ter at Prince­ton Univer­sity in New Jer­sey.

One of the mile­stones in his ca­reer is when he coined the ne­ol­o­gism “bioin­for­mat­ics” in 1986.

Lim is some­times re­ferred to as the “Fa­ther of Bioin­for­mat­ics” for his con­tri­bu­tions in es­tab­lish­ing the field of bioin­for­mat­ics, ef­forts which helped to set the di­rec­tion of in­stru­men­ta­tion im­prove­ment, bio­data ac­cu­mu­la­tion and genome re­search.

So you think you can dance?

Many peo­ple have the per­cep­tion that Lim may be se­ri­ous about his work and per­haps, has lit­tle time for so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties.

Well, Lim has proven them wrong.

“In these days of so­cial me­dia, the fo­cus on the lives of in­di­vid­u­als can be dif­fer­ently shaded from days past.

“For ex­am­ple, Al­bert Ein­stein loved the vi­o­lin, while Richard Feyn­man loved the bon­gos (in ad­di­tion to pick­ing locks and crack­ing safes). But their con­tri­bu­tions to sci­ence are so over­whelm­ing that their per­sonal lives and hob­bies are less known,” said Lim.

Nowa­days, with Face­book and YouTube, post­ings of Lim’s so­cial life (such as his dance videos) are bet­ter viewed than his sci­en­tific works.

When Lim gets stuck in his work, he gets away to en­joy his hob­bies. Upon re­turn­ing to work, he finds new per­spec­tive, and many times, ends up solv­ing the prob­lem.

He finds he is more pro­duc­tive that way – shuf­fling be­tween hob­bies and work.

In­ci­den­tally, he takes his hob­bies very se­ri­ously (a trait from his sci­en­tific train­ing) – he dances com­pet­i­tively and per­forms pro­fes­sion­ally as well.

Lim took up danc­ing in 1986 when he was pro­gramme di­rec­tor of Su­per­com­puter Com­pu­ta­tions Re­search

In­sti­tute at Florida State Univer­sity.

“Dur­ing those days, my se­cal­ways re­tary won­dered where I dis­ap­peared to on Thurs­days be­tween 2pm and 4pm. She soon found out that I vis­ited se­nior cen­tres ... some of the se­niors would in­vite me to dance,” he said.

In 1996, when he moved to Cal­i­for­nia, he took up danc­ing se­ri­ously. In 2007, he started com­pet­ing in world danc­ing cham­pi­onships.

“I still dance a lot, es­pethe cially dur­ing week­ends. I also teach dance classes, em­pha­sis­ing body dy­nam­ics.”

Lim is an ex­pert in 16 ball­room dance styles, par­tic­u­larly swing dances such as the hus­tle and salsa.

Other than danc­ing, he goes jog­ging with his pet Labrador, Mid­night.

Lim be­lieves that a suc­cess­ful sci­en­tist or en­tre­pre­neur should not re­strain him­self from cul­ti­vat­ing mean­ing­ful en­deav­ours out­side his do­main of ex­per­tise.

He es­pouses that “life should be ‘rounded’ or multi-di­men­sional, and not ‘flat’.”

Robots can do many great stunts and this will add a new di­men­sion to danc­ing.

Dr Lim Hwa Aun

Lim is a sci­en­tist, au­thor and dancer. He still dances a lot, es­pe­cially dur­ing the week­ends. — OOI TEE LING


Ac­cord­ing to Lim ro­bot­ics is mov­ing for­ward so rapidly it is im­mi­nent that robots will be a ma­jor part of the work­force.

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