At a technicolor event space in central Milan, I walked through an unremarkable body-tracking corridor that turned my movement and limbs into stick figures. I hurried on to the next section, called "Autonomous," which manifested the "independence and free will of robotics" in a caged pendulum.
Moving with a curious combination of natural, gravity-based swings and internal programming, the pendulum reacted to the various humans shifting around it. I think this was meant to illustrate how natural behaviors can be replicated and subverted by robots. But I'm only half sure.
"Accordance," the next part of this installation, was the most fascinating. Sony filled the floor with white spheres of differing sizes, with about half of them wobbling around a group of enraptured attendees.
According to Sony, each sphere has its own set of behaviors and personality, which was reflected in how these giant Spheros behaved around each other and the human interlopers that entered their midst. Above, overhead depth sensors and cameras were picking up information on where I sat or stood.
The larger-sized balls were, unfortunately, the most... independent. They neither approached me when I was seated, nor did they react to my prods. The smaller ones had a few behaviors. Once they were aware that I was sitting them, they approached me, bumping up against my legs. A few others stayed close to each other. If I tried to separate them, they'd soon join together again, like magnets.
Then it hit me. This all felt like the conceptual, esoteric tech equivalent of a cat cafe. This simple system offered enough variance in white ball "personality" to at least entertain me. I wouldn't go so far as to call it affection, though. They each needed a face.