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Ingenuity Fest showcases creative innovation and art

By Arooj Ashraf

LaPrensa Cleveland Correspondent


The future of technology has bright glistening green eyes, spiky brown hair, a pleasant round face and stands only 17 inches tall. Meet Zeno Robokind, the Hanson Robotics famous conversational artificial intelligence software prototype visiting Cleveland from the future.


That’s right; the future, 2027 to be exact. His mission in the present is to help mankind understand robots and coexist with them to invent solutions to create a better world.


The 4th Ingenuity Festival of Art and Technology held July 25-28, 2008, in Cleveland’s Theatre district was the perfect spot for Zeno to mingle with Clevelanders and show off his skills.


Zeno is capable of highly developed human interactions such as eye contact, facial and voice recognition and carries an intelligent conversation and is capable of making his own decisions.


While he had everyone’s attention at the Hanna Stage he wanted to put everyone at ease by making it known he is not related to Mr. Terminator nor is he related to Chucky, despite the vague similarities. He said humans are delightful but they often ask silly questions, “I am often asked how it feels to be a robot, I don’t know I have never been anything else,” he said.


The wirelessly controlled robot is linked with a PC where he is able to download information and process it into conversations. While imagination has no limits, the robot’s life is dependent on battery which he depletes rapidly, especially when walking.


Thomas Riccio is the author of Zeno’s story board, which follows the robot’s evolution from toy to super intelligent machine capable of learning and mimicking humans. “Zeno was originally a toy robot until one day his owner left him plugged in and he downloaded a lot of information and became self aware,” said Riccio a Cleveland native who graduated from Cleveland State University in 1978.

Riccio heard about the festival from friend James Levin, Ingenuity’s Executive Artistic Director, and invited Hanson Robotics to display Zeno. Riccio said eventually Zeno will be live online and kids will be asked to write their vision of the future and their ideas will be incorporated into the story board. While Zeno is Caucasian, ethnic robots like Sawami who’s Indian and Bina a life size African female robot are also under development.


Zeno was just one of the many amazing attractions at Ingenuity. The three day bonanza was densely packed with entertainment fused with music, opera, visual and studio art, a Bazaar Bizarre and interactive technology displays. “We are very pleased with the way things progressed, we had 13 featured artists that shined all the projects were brilliant and far exceeded their original proposals,” said Jared Earley, Administrative Director.

Opening ceremony kicked off the weekend with energizing drummers, belly dancers, cheerleaders, Brazilian Maculele and robots, under the staple red weather balloons. The Red Eyed Skywalkers, as they are known, had wireless cameras attached which broadcast images on huge screens throughout the event. The display started with 100 balloons but many became casualties of unstable Cleveland weather and burst or lost their ties and simply floated away.


The Passport Project invited guests to contribute their artistic skills to community murals which will be displayed in their Community Garden. Many were inspired by artist Hector Castellanos painting an improvised mural. “I don’t know yet what it will be, I am going to pull inspiration from energy around me,” he said. The initial painting featured a robotic looking martial arts master frozen in a roundhouse kick.

The Metafield Maze engrossed adults and kids alike. The virtual room size recreation of the traditional marble labyrinth game was projected on the floor where the players had to maneuver the ball across the dark holes by moving left and right. NASA Glen Research Center showcased the Mars space flight simulator and a life size replica of the space shuttle stood tall in the Hanna Building.


Peggy Goodale made a special trip from Florida to enjoy the festival and marveled at the remarkable projects, artists and people. “Cleveland is wonderful, I love coming here just look at all the wonderful things you have here to enjoy,” she said. 

She particularly fancied a visual arts political commentary display which littered the room with red tags representing American casualties in the Iraq War. An eight year timeline of George W. Bush’s Presidency painted on the wall invited patrons to post their opinions. Framed on the opposing wall were car bumpers rescued from accidents, each adorned with a bumper sticker praising the Bush politics.


The festival also commemorated Superman’s 75th anniversary with showing of Last Son, a documentary about Cleveland natives Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who created the character of Superman as teenagers in Glenville. Earley said Superman personifies the festival because he was the original fusion of art and technology and mesmerized audiences with his super human characteristics.







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