What happens when people and machines meet? For two years, filmmaker Yves Gellie visited hospital patients and nursing home residents in France and Belgium to film their encounters with a robot. The modest table-top robot with a childish voice and friendly blinking eyes elicits responses ranging from curiosity to tenderness, trust or irritation, and sometimes slight confusion—on both ends.
Gellie’s background as a photographer is evident in the careful composition and uniform lighting, which give the scenes a highly aesthetic quality. The robot chats, plays games and dances with elderly people, some of whom have Alzheimer’s or dementia, as well as younger people with autism or neurological disorders.
The rooms in which the encounters take place are as timeless and neutral as a laboratory, which puts us in the position of observer or researcher. As we note the signs of empathy that people exhibit towards the robot, it’s also interesting to reverse our perspective: who is able to grab our attention the most?