TECH

Robot Actor Files For Screen Actors Guild Membership

This robot's got talent. But does it deserve a place in SAG-AFTRA?

Reality caught up with science fiction this week when the maker of a robot filed for a card from the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Perhaps in a sign of things to come, the IRB 2400 industrial robot, manufactured by ABB, debuted on "America's Got Talent" on Tuesday as part of a dance troupe called Freelusion.

Video of the performance is below:

This industrial robot should look familiar to movie fans: Its cousin, ABB's IRB 120, starred as Tony Stark's robotic assistant, "Butterfingers," in the Iron Man films. 

Frankly, I think IRB 120 displayed far more emotional range in "Iron Man 2" than its larger cousin did onstage, but Tony Stark's companion had many opportunities to show off its acting chops. 

The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists did not return a press inquiry about whether it will grant IRB 2400 membership. 

While this is something of a PR stunt by ABB, we're likely to see many more robots, holograms and digitally created characters on the stage and screen in years to come. Computer-generated imagery is already a huge part of the industry. 

Way back in 2002, Al Pacino starred in a mediocre film called "S1m0ne," in which his character, a movie producer, creates a computer-generated actor for his films. I've embedded an excerpt below, where she performs as a hologram. 

While "S1m0ne" was hampered by poor writing, it's hitting at something very real. As our technical capacity to render realistic humans grows, the question of who owns the code and machinery that animates popular characters is going to be a point of contention between producers, studios and actors, particularly as humans age out of roles. 

Virtual actors and their virtual rights have posed legal challenges for years. Deceased actors have already been recreated using computers to reprise their roles in sequels and spinoffs.

Whether or not ABB's robot gains standing in SAG-AFTRA, computers now offer directors another casting option -- which means that software and robots may eat acting jobs, too.