Remember "clubbing"? You were young, slim, limber – not a care in the world. You thought you could dance. If you couldn't, it didn't matter. Now look at you. Flailing flabby limbs swinging from a corpulent, jiggling mass. Disgusting.
But San Francisco (where else?) may offer a glimmer of hope for the toe-tapping, dad-dancing hordes past their prime.
The home of Silicon Valley's fifth Gray Area Festival, which kicked off yesterday and runs until Monday, aims to advance "culture and common good through the lens of art and technology." That intersection, we suppose, is the titular grey area.
Over the coming days, the fest will host a bunch of exhibitions and talks from hipsters and technologists alike, though one nightly "installation" in particular piqued the interest of these two left feet.
"Forced exoskeleton rave."
Y’all the forced exoskeleton rave is fucking wild. pic.twitter.com/o1YDa65xpv— Nicole Aptekar (@nicoles) July 26, 2019
Yes, you can completely subjugate yourself to our robotic overlords and have the dancing done for you, while a bewildered audience looks on.
"Inferno" is the work of machine artists Louis-Philippe Demers and Bill Vorn, described by the festival thus:
Participating audience members, clad in machine-powered wearable exoskeletons, will step on stage to perform for a show unlike any other. Each robot is designed to perform dynamic movements choreographed and activated by the artists, mobilizing the performers to dance in time to the dark, industrial techno soundtrack for the audience.
Shifting the command from artist to computer and role of audience to performer, Inferno questions the nature of control and agency in the landscape of technology and performance today. At the frontier of art and technology, this interactive performance poses a remarkably unique experience questioning our world in its transformation.
Honestly, jerking and gyrating like a useless meat puppet while pistons and gears have their wicked way with you looks both incredibly stressful and yet kind of fun.
At least you won't be able to bring shame upon your house by cracking out the "Smooth Criminal" or "Night Fever". Plus, the soundtrack is banging.
The field of robotics has come on in literal leaps and bounds, as anyone who has watched videos of Boston Dynamics' shambling monstrosities will know. As it happens, their creations are pretty good at dancing, too.
Exosuits, however, are more of a human enhancement than a fully fledged, autonomous robot. The upcoming tech has applications across industry (heavy lifting) and the military (gods save us), but perhaps the most helpful is in medicine, like ReWalk or Honda's Walking Assist Device, which could get paraplegics and people with other movement difficulties back on their feet. You may recall that Claire Lomas, who lost the use of her legs after a riding accident, completed the 2012 London Marathon assisted by ReWalk's kit.
While we wait patiently for these to go mass market, the fight against much more widespread disabilities – leaden limbs, poor rhythm and social awkwardness – is a welcome distraction.
Tickets to Inferno are still available at an eye-watering $55 (to be an exoskeleton performer) and an equally steep $35 dollars just to watch. But, hey, robo-fetishists people seem to be enjoying it.
If you've ever wondered where that cyberpunk future is, it would seem we are very nearly there. ®