Robots loom large in CBC doc

Beacher Peter Keleghan explores the cutting edge of robotics and technology in an upcoming CBC documentary, Roboticize Me.

Technically Keleghan, who will be familiar to most CBC viewers from any number of television roles, is actually the co-host of the Doc zone production. His co-host, RoboThespian, shows its own dry wit in the hour-long special, which will air at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 22.

Keleghan has hosted two previous Doc Zone episodes, including a special on the anniversary of the War of 1812 and an investigation into modern workspaces titled Officeland.

Peter Keleghan
Peter Keleghan

During filming of Roboticize Me, Keleghan filled the role of layman, approaching each new robot or lab with a sense of curiosity but a lack of technical knowledge, which is exactly what the producers were looking for. The production gave him the opportunity to witness some inspiring uses for robotics technology, such as seeing a young paraplegic man use a sort of exoskeleton to walk.

“It’s fascinating, and I would never ever have a chance to see something like that, so I was pretty excited to do it,” Keleghan said.

Filming took place around the world, including what is undoubtedly the epicentre of robots.

“We went to Japan, because obviously they’re on the front edge of research with robots. They tend to embrace robots much more than we do in North America. In North America we tend to be afraid of them,” said Keleghan.

One scientist there has created a robotic identical twin of himself. Meanwhile, a “robot restaurant” features a cabaret show of humans and robots – and the humans are not the stars.

In Los Angeles, filming covered a robot designer who has built droids designed for everything from playing soccer to search and rescue. San Francisco has a film festival dedicated to all things robotic.

Back in Canada, the much-publicized hitchBOT, which hitchhiked its way from coast to coast last summer, makes an appearance.

But the science isn’t the only aspect covered. In an ethics experiment, Keleghan spends time with a robot built to look like a stuffed animal, and is shocked at what he’s asked to do.

“That was a complete surprise to me, I had no idea they were going to do anything like that,” he said.

While he learned quite a bit about robotics during the filming, Keleghan said he’s now more reassured of humanity’s role in the world.

“I came away from it knowing that we’re nowhere near Terminator or anything like that,” he said.

On Saturday, Jan. 17 at 6 p.m., the Ontario Science Centre will host an advanced screening of Roboticize Me, followed by a panel discussion featuring experts in robotics, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence, in support of the Science Centre’s Adopt-A-Class program. Tickets are give-what-you-can, with a suggested donation of $10.

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