Year of the robot

A film by Yves Gellie
Watch on VOD
31 min
Production : Upian
Langue : Français
Image : Couleur
Son : Stéréo
Format : Fichier numérique, DCP
Négatif : Iskra
Versions disponibles : VFR, VENG

At the intersection of art and science, Year of the robot depicts the human being and the robot as its artificial counterpart. As a series of archival documents detailing the first contacts and dialogue between a robot gifted with an artificially created autonomy and human beings, it studies cognitive dissonance, a minute, mysterious relational space sitting between the two actors.

It involves elderly people sometimes afflicted with Alzheimer’s or dementia, or young adults with autism or neurological problems.

Once past the surprise phase and aware of the artificial nature of the robot’s functioning, the residents try, despite everything, to forge bonds with it.

Intent and genesis of the film

Exploring the desire and wishes humans may have to form a personal daily relationship with a robot.

It is a series of archives detailing the first contacts and dialogs with a humanoid robot, equipped with artificial autonomy, and humans.

The film centers on cognitive dissonance. The interlocutors are fully aware that the functioning of the robot is totally artificial but they still develop a personal, intimate relationship with the machine in the presence of the team that operates it.

Many questions, concerns or preconceived notions floating around about the role of robots in our society. A lot of speculation and fears are seen looming in the advent of these machines which will one day be capable of efficiently interacting with humans. This film makes us observers of the empathy humans feel towards these humanoid machines.

The film was shot over two years in the geriatric medicine departments of Paris’ De Broca and De la Rochefoucauld hospitals, at Maison Ferrari EPHAD (nursing home) in Clamart, at the Weverbos and Toma Stena centers in Belgium. It was filmed with elderly persons, some of them Alzheimer or dementia patients, and young adults with autism or suffering from neurological disorders. Of course, the film was made with the support and help of the staff of these institutions.

This work was initiated during an art/science residency with Anne-Sophie Rigaud at Maribel Pino of the Lusage laboratory who works on the advent of social robots in the field of health. It is during this residency that the author has developed a working protocol allowing him to explore the strange, hard to analyze relationship observed between a human being and the artificial object that is the robot.

Robotics research is gaining increasing importance in the field of health. Humanoid robots have already made their way in some French hospital departments. These robots raise positive emotions in patients. They help improve communication, social interaction and help reduce behavioral disorders. They can help to improve the well-being during patient care. But indications, limits and ethical aspects remain open for discussion.

Currently, robots like NAO, which we follow in the film, can only simulate and engage in simple interaction — they are totally dependent on the person that directs them.

The film draws from fiction while being grounded in reality. The scenes it includes tells us of a future that is in turn desired, imagined, and sometimes rejected by our societies. By pushing NAO toward a dreamed, idealized autonomy that is almost within reach, the film shows the fascination and, sometimes, the irresistible urge humans have to communicate with these machines. These idealized relationships appear simpler, appeased in comparison with those they can have with their fellow humans. Even if the advent of the humanoid robots collides with the harsh economic, scientific and technical reality, the dream of having an artificial companion remains deeply anchored in our imagination.

These sequences themselves are part of cognitive dissonance. They are perceived as truer than life. Even though they belong to a generation familiar with the cinematographic language, all spectators want to believe what they see. Spectators are immersed in a daily life filled with hyper-realistic fantasies yet they watch in wonderment just like the first viewers of Louis Lumière’s Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat.

The project has another aspect. Imagination, and especially fiction are, no doubt, the best tools we have to grasp some of the big issues of our future.

«Over time, novels, TV series, sci-fi films have fed the imagination of programmers and designers of our digital tools. Furthermore, these works of fiction explicitly shape the ambitions of new technological advancement and the ethical questions raised by the deployment of technical advancement.»1

Science shapes life, fiction shapes science.

Yves Gellie

1Milad Doueihi, Pour un humanisme numérique, Seuil 2011.


  • L'année du robot - extrait 1
  • L'année du robot - extrait 2
  • L'année du robot - extrait 3