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At Brown, Course Merges Dance and Computer Science

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Boston Dynamics robot at Brown University dance studio

Classes showed how choreographers and roboticists both create sequences of movements.

Credit: Brown University

Sydney Skybetter, a senior lecturer in theatre arts and performance studies at Brown University, is an experienced choreographer with an interest in artificial intelligence.

In Spring 2022, Skybetter and colleagues sought to humanize robotics via a course called Choreorobotics 0101. On the surface, the course's objective was straightforward: Learn how to choreograph a 30-second dance using one of two pairs of Spot robots designed by the robotics company Boston Dynamics.

Yet there was a lot more to unpack. Skybetter says robotics is the perfect lodestar for conversations on dance, technology, and violence, because it exists at the intersection of all three subjects.

Drones, for example, "look very cool when they fly together. But the better these robots are at moving with precision and improvising when unpredictable things happen — in other words, the better they are at 'dancing' — the easier it is to deploy them to inflict violence," he says. "And that leads to one of the governing questions of this course: How do we explore and understand these technologies while, to the extent that we can, not doing harm?"

From Brown University
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