Robot Dreams

Robots discuss robots on film

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Robot Dreams is a fun way to explore themes related to robots in popular culture and see and hear connections between robots, war, violence and threat in popular imagination. Robot Dreams visualises and sonifies references to robots from a large data-set of over 82,000 movie plots drawn from Wikipedia. It takes over four hours to play more than 1800 excerpts related to robots.

What are the robots saying?

The robots are reading sentences from movie plots extracted from Wikipedia. These are descriptions of movies plots not lines from the movies. The plots were retrieved and then sentences mentioning robots (i.e. robot, robots, robotic etc) were extracted. Every time you start Robot Dreams it reads the sentences in a random order. Before reading each sentence it shows the image Wikipedia associates with the movie (if there is one).

What do the circles and circle labels represent?

The circles represent themes extracted from sentences mentioning robots using the Empath library. The dream is technically a packed circle chart. Larger circles indicate themes that are more frequently associated with robots in movie plots. Circles are also arranged so that clusters of semantically related themes are grouped. The largest cluster contains the themes war, fight, kill, military, and terrorism.

Each circle label is associated with a list of semantically related words. For example, the most frequent theme war is associated with words like battle and army. When these words are mentioned in a sentence then that sentence is associated with that theme. Multiple themes can be triggered by a single word.

Why are the robots angry?

The application highlights some specific themes related to associations between robots, war, violence and threat. When a sentence mentions a word related to these themes the robot's mouth and eyes turn red.

Do the dreams always make sense?

All automated text analysis gets things wrong and we are applying a blunt automated tool to detect themes: not all sentences have themes attached and the themes sometimes do not match the meaning of each sentence. However, the random sequence of sentences read by our ‘robots’ provides a unique way to experience and explore the data, to notice features and make connections. By listening to the robot references and watching the themes that our blunt tool detects we can actively interpret languge.

What should I take away from this?

The main purpose of developing Robot Dreams is to provide an interface to experience popular culture references to robots and represent the frequent associations between robots, war and a wider sense of threat. Robot Dreams allows you to watch and listen and do your own exploration of the data.

How can I find out more?

Robot Dreams was built by Geoffrey Ford. Geoff is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Canterbury in Aotearoa New Zealand and works on the Mapping LAWS project. Mapping LAWS is a project by international relations scholars and political scientists working to visualise and analyse emerging debates about autonomous weapons or killer robots. There's a blog post with more information on how this was built and more on how this fits into our ongoing research. Please check out the Mapping LAWS website to learn more!


Ford, Geoffrey. (2021, September 16). Robot Dreams : Robots discuss robots on film. Mapping LAWS: Issue mapping and analysing the lethal autonomous weapons debate.

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