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THE NEXT LIST

Marco Tempest: Cyber Illusionist and Virtual Magician; Heather Knight: Roboticist With an Edge

Aired December 25, 2011 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: You're about to meet Marco Tempest. He's a cyber illusionist. Now, I - I really have no idea what that means, but what I can tell you is this - like most agents of change, he is a force in his field. You see, in Marco's world, what is often perceived to be real is just an illusion. And he uses technology to blur the lines between what is true and what is not.

Still confused? Well, the truth is that even after getting to know him over the next 30 minutes, you may still be left scratching your heads. But you will understand why Marco Tempest is on THE NEXT LIST.

MARCO TEMPEST, CYBER ILLUSIONIST: My name is Marco Tempest. I'm a cyber illusionist, which means I combine magic and science to create illusions.

It's deception, it's science, technology, gadgets. Calling myself a magician evokes a certain - a certain image, like if we hear magician, we immediately know what that is. It's - it's a guy who does a magic trick.

A cyber illusionist, it requires a little bit of explanation. It's a conversation starter, and that's really what my work is all about.

GUPTA (voice-over): Magic is as old as time, and throughout history it's been celebrated and feared. But now, this age-old art form is being re-imagined by Tempest, and he's taking it to another level.

TEMPEST: My tools are very outside of the - of the realm of magic. I use computer vision, high-speed photography, video graphic design, thermal imaging, robotics, neuro (ph) network, learning semantic systems. It's all these things which enable me to - to create my vision.

Can you see the umbrella?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

TEMPEST: All right. Watch.

I'm kind of completely bending (ph) magic as we know it. GUPTA: Some might say technology is magical. It makes possible what may have once seemed impossible.

Technology blurs the lines of what is real in our lives. That's the concept at the heart of Tempest's work.

TEMPEST: So my ultimate goal is to tell a story and to maybe explain real life in a - in a magical way and evoke these kind of conversations within my audience. So they might reflect on things which happen in their life which they've seen in my magic.

When we're little kids, everything is magic, like soap bubbles, rainbows, snowflakes. Then we grow up and magic disappears out of our lives somehow. And now, a magician, if he does it right, has this power to re-enchant people, to give them that feeling back for a short amount of time, and I think that's - that's a really good cause.

GUPTA: Tempest performs for audiences all over the world, from random sidewalks to grand stages, even online.

TEMPEST: One of my favorite magicians is Karl Germain. He had this wonderful trick where a rosebush grew right in front of your eyes. But it was his production of a butterfly that was the most beautiful.

KARL GERMAIN, MAGICIAN (voice-over): Ladies and gentlemen, the creation of life.

TEMPEST: For me it's very important that my work is - is understood by large audiences, and also by international audiences, that it's easily translated into multiple languages. I love to perform in local languages where I am.

(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

GUPTA: Tempest has also found a niche, helping corporations tell their stories.

TEMPEST: I make my living by doing a lot of corporate performances, which means I help companies emotionalize their content, their messaging, their products.

As technologies evolve, I have to evolve with them, and a great way to do that is to work for big corporations which make these technologies. So, a lot of times, I'm actually out there, introducing new products or new concepts, future concepts of living and interaction. And, by that, I have the opportunity to get access to these technologies at a very early stage.

Sometimes I might have a product six months or almost a year before it's out in the public, and that gives me just that little bit of an advantage over the general audience.

Innovation is really an essential seam in my work, pushing boundaries, working and collaborating with people outside of my comfort zone, completely different backgrounds and expertise. Creating tools that might not have existed before to actually create my magic.

OK, (INAUDIBLE).

How are you doing?

GUPTA (on camera): Good to see you.

TEMPEST: Come on in.

GUPTA: And coming up, we go further into the mind of cyber illusionist Marco Tempest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Hey, Marco.

TEMPEST: How are you doing?

GUPTA: Good to see you.

TEMPEST: Come on in.

Let me show you around.

GUPTA: So this is literally where the magic happens?

TEMPEST: Yes. It's my secret magic lab.

GUPTA: I feel magical already, just being here.

So - so what are we looking at here, Marco?

TEMPEST: This is a - a new piece I'm working on. It's a magical crossword puzzle. There's some powering words (ph), and this should like kind of show this in a fun way. I can start it up real quick, and maybe you want to give it a shot.

I don't know if you recognize any patterns within - within the letters which are on the table right now. You can just arrange them if you - if you feel that you see -

GUPTA: It would be a little - a little - a little embarrassing if I didn't get this.

Now, I'm just moving these, and I saw that when you - when you touched the - the letters, that they didn't have these letters on them in the beginning.

TEMPEST: Right.

GUPTA: So you did something -

TEMPEST: And now -

GUPTA: -- to bring these letters -

TEMPEST: -- look at this. It - it gave you complete and, oh, we have another one.

GUPTA: Wow. That's -

TEMPEST: Please.

GUPTA: I'm just trying to see what you - you did there. It was - it was fascinating.

TEMPEST: So obviously this is just kind of like a prototyping station and kind of to figure out how things could look later on in a - in a real - oh, that's mine. Let me quickly put this together.

GUPTA: You got that right pretty quickly.

TEMPEST: Yes. That's -

GUPTA: Do you mind if I pick one of these up?

TEMPEST: Sure. Yes.

So these are the - the smallest possible screens which are available right now. They're kind of an educational toy, which lends themselves excellent to - to do some magic with and then - and make it very tactile and possibly have audience members interact with it and - and do magical things.

GUPTA: We even have CNN here. You're - you're pushing all the right buttons, so to speak.

So - so, what is - what is your thinking? What is your process? How do you come up with this stuff?

TEMPEST: Sometimes it's inspired by technology, like these. I was able to get my hands on these. They're called Sifteos. I got a developer agreement so I can actually put my own content on them.

So sometimes it's the technology which starts the process, and other times it's a - a story or a - or a fragment of piece of information which - which might lead to a trick. So there are different roads which can lead to a finished - finished trick or a finished segment.

GUPTA: So someone may show you this and say this is one of the smallest screens and your mind thinks I can do something with this, something that's a deception or a con or a magic.

TEMPEST: Yes. It was just so compelling, like it was - it's such a playful way, it's like the - the most minimal computer you could think of. Like there is no interface. The interface is just how you relate these to each other. So it is magical in itself, and that makes it perfect be for the kind of things I'm looking for. GUPTA (voice-over): Tempest's love of magic started out like it does for many in his field, with a magic kit at a young age. He grew up in Switzerland, in a working class family. By the time he was 12, he was performing with the children's circus in front of thousands.

TEMPEST: Back then, I didn't really know what - what magic was all about or how the tricks would actually work. But magic very soon provided a sort of an escape from reality, and I think for a lot of kids this is exactly what magic is.

GUPTA: He began winning awards in competitions, but within a few years, Tempest got bored.

TEMPEST: There was a time for me where I started disliking magic. Magic felt old and boring and - and almost dead. And, as I turned away from magic, I actually discovered that there's so much other stuff out there in popular culture, which are relevant to today's audiences, which could actually be brought into magic and make magic relevant once again.

GUPTA: For Tempest, adding pop culture to his tricks in the mid- 80s meant emulating what he loved most of all - special effects, like those he was seeing in the movies.

TEMPEST: People would actually go to the movies to see special effects. So if I could bring the special effects of the movies to the stage, then, in my mind, sure enough, I would have a - a recipe, the DNA to do magic, which is contemporary and which would attract larger audiences.

GUPTA: But equipment to create special effects was hard to come by at that time, so Tempest made a bold move. He called companies that had the high-end gear he needed and asked to use it.

TEMPEST: I said, if you let me use that gear, in return I'll be able to show you a magic show which has not existed before which will incorporate your products and I give you a free show.

GUPTA: The companies agreed, and Tempest found himself with hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment at his disposal. His magic would never be the same.

(on camera): Is this what magic is going to look like in the future?

TEMPEST: I think so, to a large part. But, at the same time, I don't think that all magicians should now use technology. There's so - magic is such a huge field and there's so many way to express yourself. If technology is your thing, use it. If it's not, then do something else.

GUPTA: He's a YouTube phenom, he's a street sensation, but wait till you see what happens when Marco Tempest takes the stage.

More NEXT LIST continues after this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TEMPEST: In my corporate performances, a lot of times it's about revealing a product or bringing on a speaker in a stage environment or giving a key communication message in a magical way. So the corporations approach me. They give me their messaging, their products and I incorporate them into, you could say, a magic routine and I try to incorporate as much as possible without it being corny, but at the same time like stay true to their messaging and make it fun for the audience.

I'm from Switzerland and over there, we love it when technology makes our lives easier. There's really only one thing we like more, and that would be chocolate.

I work with marketing departments and I look at what they - what they try to say about their products, how they - how they want to position themselves in the marketplace or what ways there would be to - to make their products resonate with their audiences.

Yes. That's actually a super fascinating process to get access to technology before it's outside in the marketplace. I get a glimpse at a possible future sometimes, like what is going to happen in pattern recognition or speak recognition or computational photography, so these are very, very exciting themes which then later on can be incorporated back into my magic.

Some of the companies I work for are like Apple Computers, IBM, Intel, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Panasonic. There are pharmaceutical companies. There are services companies, big telecommunication companies, everything which is loosely related to technology. There's also fashion brands and luxury fashion brands, so there's a - there's a broad range and there are many, many markets all around the world.

MATT KENDALL, SR. VP CONCEPT ARTISTS: I think Marco's biggest contribution is that he takes one of the oldest art forms in the world of magic and he modernizes it and he's able to dance this dance between virtual reality and actual reality in a way that is inclusive and open and appeals to everyone.

TEMPEST: I feel that I succeed when I can give them that moment of being enchanted and maybe give them a glimpse at a possible future and if - if within that I manage to somehow have a corporate message which - which resonates with me and them, you know, even better.

Making art is not my aspiration. My aspiration is - is to do what I love, like to show my passion to my audiences and if I can be passionate about something in a corporate event, and I - I can show that to my audience, that's - that's totally enough and that's exactly what I want to achieve. It's terrible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TEMPEST: So the type of magic I like, and I'm a magician, is the magic that uses technologies to create illusions. So I would like to show you something I've been working on. It's an application that I think will be useful for artists, multimedia artists in particular. It synchronizes videos across multiple screens of mobile devices. And I've borrowed these three iPods from people in the audience to show you what I mean.

One of my favorite magicians is Karl Germain. He had this wonderful trick where a rose bush would bloom right in front of your eyes. But it was his production of a butterfly that was the most beautiful.

GERMAIN (voice-over): Ladies and gentlemen, the creation of life.

When asked about deception, he said this -

GERMAIN: Magic is the only honest profession. A magician promises to deceive you and he does.

TEMPEST: I like to think of myself as an honest magician. I use a lot of tricks, which means that sometimes I have to lie to you.

I feel bad about that. But people lie every day. (INAUDIBLE) whoever it is, he's going to say, hey, where are you? Well, I'm stuck in traffic. I'll be there soon. We've all done it, right.

GUPTA: Not me.

TEMPEST: And they - they lie. Let me stop this quick.

OK. So, yes, the secrets are all behind here.

GUPTA: There's a little butterfly you got going there.

TEMPEST: Actually, this is one of - of my biggest secrets here. This is the - this is prompter, the teleprompter and if I start this thing so this kind of tells me where I am in the piece.

GUPTA: Really?

TEMPEST: So I can -

GUPTA: So you look up there and you have at least some sense of timing.

TEMPEST: A sense of timing, but really the most important thing about this is how it starts. This is my - my super trade secret. I have smiley faces on the back of all of my props to remind me to have fun with what I do. Because sometimes this stuff is very, very challenging, but this is kind of a reminder to - to enjoy myself no matter what. GUPTA: That's so funny to me, because here we are in this technologically sophisticated lab and you literally have a smiley face to say, you know what, have fun with this. That's great. You know, technology meets I guess just old-fashioned little reminder like that.

TEMPEST: Well, a lot of people think performing magic is quite easy. Actually it's nerve-racking to be in front of a room full of people and - and do something which has to be very precise. So this is a very good way to kind of prepare mentally to say, hey, let's have great fun.

GUPTA: Technology as we all know can fail. I mean, things may not work. I mean, my phone fails on me all the time. What happens in a situation like that?

TEMPEST: I found that when things go wrong, the audience typically is very forgiving. It's like you smile, and say, "Uh-oh, let's start this again." And everybody is laughing. They go, see, you know, even he's not perfect.

It's like it's usually a situation can be diffused very easily like it's some single throw (ph). And a lot of times little things go wrong and nobody knows because the audience never knows what to expect.

GUPTA: Right, right. And it's a little bit of a peek behind the curtain for them into what you do.

TEMPEST: Right. But, you know, at the end of the day, I hope things go the way as planned.

GUPTA: Right, right. That's fascinating. And, again, this is just something that anybody could get, this - what is it called - this particular software?

TEMPEST: The software is called MultiVid like multiple videos - MultiVid. And it's available for free at the App Store.

I try to give away the technology, but maybe not the poetry. So ideally they will make their own contents but -

GUPTA: That's an interesting way of putting it. You would like to give away the technology, but the poetry is still a very - that's an individual thing.

TEMPEST: Yes, absolutely. I think everybody should use these digital tools to express themselves in their own way.

GUPTA: In their own way.

TEMPEST: Yes.

GUPTA: And you've come up with a very clever way to do it.

TEMPEST: Oh, thank you. I think maybe a theme or like an overarching theme, will be that in my work, I constantly have to solve problems and get acquainted with new things and that's a really big theme in all our lives. You know, our lives change so rapidly and we have to adjust to all these new things coming into our lives and maybe watching my show puts that in a more lighthearted view, so to speak.

What I put out is not the end of things. It's the beginning. If I succeed, it's the beginning of a conversation. It's the beginning of real engagement. I think artists these days, have to find ways to show what they do and their point of view, and who they are, to find audiences which are attracted to that, to that combination of things.

So, I think my work talks about creativity, being yourself, showing yourself to your audience, hopefully, and treating them nicely and giving them a magical experience.

GUPTA: Like Marco, everyone you're going to meet on THE NEXT LIST is a force in their field. They often see opportunities where others do not. They chase personal passions often in the face of challenges and resistance. And sometimes those passions, they come about quite by accident. Other times it's as if they were born to do it.

They are a unique collection of people coming from all sorts of different worlds, but they have this one thing in common, they are all agents of change and that's what earns them a spot on THE NEXT LIST.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Welcome to THE NEXT LIST. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. You're about to meet Heather Knight. She's a roboticist with an edge. She's teaching her robot to do stand-up comedy, perform dance moves, and even recite Shakespeare.

Now some of these might have her academic colleagues sort of scratching their heads, but there's a point to all this fun. Heather wants to better understand what makes people feel connected to technology and for Heather, the secret lies in this little robot, "Data."

This is THE NEXT LIST. Everyone you meet is a force in their field. They are agents of change and that's why they're on THE NEXT LIST.

HEATHER KNIGHT, RESEARCHER, CARNEGIE-MELLON UNIVERSITY: My name is Heather Knight and I am a doctoral researcher at Carnegie-Mellon University and I study social robotics.

ROBOT: They call me "Data," the robot. Gosh, I love saying that. KNIGHT: Social roboticist is someone that makes robots that can interact with people in a human way. When I tell people I make robots, they're usually like wow, that's really cool.

And when I tell people I make social robots, usually they're a little confused at first and I found that the best way to talk about what I actually do is by example.

ROBOT: Heather, how about you get working on that emotion program?

KNIGHT: We're trying.

ROBOT: Fair enough.

KNIGHT: Usually when people think of robots, they can think of two ends of the spectrum. One of them is these Hollywood sort of "Terminator" films or "Wall-E," like this fully interactive, almost like human in a different robot-shaped box sort of systems.

And then on the other end of the spectrum, you have these machines that might plow our fields or put our packages in the mail or some of those coolest cases, rove around on the surface of Mars.

So when you talk about social robots, that's something that's actually somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

ROBOT: I am a robot, yes, a robot. If you pick us in our battery pack, do we not bleed our alkaline fluid?

KNIGHT: Robots have a lot to learn, right? They're new to our environment. They're an alien that's come down to our planet. They don't know any of our rules. They don't know our grammar. They don't know our social structures.

So they're going to make a lot of mistakes. Humor can be a nice escape from that. Like, you know, like any like charming international student that doesn't quite speak our language that has probably gotten away with a lot by sort of a little laughter at one's self.

ROBOT: My programmer helps that one day I will be an autonomous robotic performer, like Justin Bieber or, perhaps, Charlie Sheen is a better choice.

KNIGHT: The first performer robot that I made was a stand-up comedian. And not knowing very much about comedy at the time, I thought it would be all about watching the audience. I thought the audience would really define what humor was and every audience might have unique characters.

ROBOT: Hello. It's an honor to be here. You guys are looking good out there, ready for some jokes?

KNIGHT: The first system I designed, the robot was watching and tracking their laughter, their applause, and I had given the audience these feedback cards that could be red or green depending on how they liked something.

It was very like -- I mean, it was a robot that really cared about other people, you know. Like -- I don't know how many comedy shows that you all have been to lately, but there are a lot of different ways to do comedy.

ROBOT: So, a doctor says to his patient, I have bad news and worse news. The bad news is that you only have 24 hours to live. That's terrible, said the patient. How can the news possibly be worse? I've been trying to contact you since yesterday.

KNIGHT: So I wanted to see a world where we actually have useful robots that positively impact our lives.

ROBOT: My programmer designs my presentations, with the goal of driving innovation and social robotics, which is the integration of robot helpers into everyday life. So you might as well get used to this.

KNIGHT: Something that is important is actually getting these machines out into the world with real people and so it's awesome that engineers know how to build stuff. We're really good at that. But I think that we can also learn a lot from artists about making stuff that people really care about.

ROBOT: Something has gotten a hold of me.

KNIGHT: So when I make social robots, I'm trying to think about new spaces of applications for technology in our everyday lives in ways that were never possible before, before you've come up with some of this new capacity for them to understand us. New ways for them to communicate with us, that was awesome.

ROBOT: Thank you, everybody.

KNIGHT: Man, he loves an audience.

ROBOT: Coming up, Heather is giving me some serious acting lessons.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: Welcome back to THE NEXT LIST. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. As you probably figured out by now, Heather is unlike any roboticist you'll ever meet.

In Heather's version of robotics, getting the robot's gestures right is a really big deal. Who better to teach these gestures than a real acting professor? Together, they've programmed "Data" in a way that almost makes it seem like he's alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roll film and then roll up on the count of five, one, two, three, four, five. Good.

KNIGHT: People have spent entire careers like lifetimes thinking about what gesture means, thinking about how to tap into an audience, how to make a believable interaction on stage.

So as we explore this realm of social robotics for the first time, I believe that collaborating with performers and with different artists can actually help us bootstrap the development and the creation of these technologies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roll forward, stretch the fingers and arms down. There you go. Excellent.

MATTHEW GRAY, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ACTING, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY, MASSACHUSETTS: My name is Matthew Gray. I'm assistant professor of acting at the Theater Department, at the Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.

I met Heather when I went to a meeting called "Dork Thought." Before I even met her, her robot, "Data" was sitting, looking pensive at his toes on the stage. I suddenly realized that was the actor I wanted to play "Hamlet."

I've wanted to direct "Hamlet" for a long time. It sort of culminated in this idea we had of what if we could teach "Data," acting lessons, the way that some human actors ask for acting lessons.

We started with this idea of a simple action that's understandable, like the word to push. Right, "Data?"

ROBOT: That is easy for you to say, but I am a robot.

GRAY: "Data," you performed in front of hundreds of people. You know exactly what I'm talking about.

KNIGHT: Don't get stage fright now.

GRAY: Exactly. Come on, let's try some. You got to warm up, yes, to push.

ROBOT: Was that OK?

GRAY: That was great. What I found that I've learned through working with Heather is actually my own misconceptions about robotics. I had assumed that well, robots are repeatable.

And infinitely repeatable so they don't make mistakes. One of the first things I learned from working with Heather and "Data" is there are wonderful idiosyncrasies inflatable to each robot.

Each iteration processes at a slightly different speed, which to me makes "Data" sort of wonderfully, not much hugely, but wonderfully simply neurotic tool to a degree. Now there was something sort of wonderful about realizing even robots aren't perfect.

Are you all right, "Data?" We have to warm up.

KNIGHT: It's not that no one knew that gesture had meaning before. What's new is that I don't think that many roboticists were thinking about tapping into this particular body of knowledge to apply them to robots before.

So, forging that connection actually makes whole new things possible in terms of the success of our social robots in general and so one of the goals of research is uncovering some of those unknowns.

Or uncovering new things, new ways to do things, which is often combinations of stuff that already exists. That's one of the beautiful things about looking across different fields. Sometimes there is already exist methods.

For example, in biology or in my case obviously in the arts, that absolutely apply to the problem you're trying to solve if you just look outside of your own little circle.

ROBOT: Next stop is the story of how Heather and I met and know, it was not at a bar.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KNIGHT: So, I -- that could be playful. So I'm a robot. I was born in a factory just outside of Boston. OK, not really. I'm a person, but I do get asked that sometimes. But yes, so I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, home of American Revolution.

My mother's family were Irish immigrants, so that's always fun having that sort of history and my dad is from Texas and he's an engineer. My mom speaks a million languages, works in non-profits most of life and like really cares about impacting the world.

Yes, my dad's like super smart and like really an amazing engineer. Somehow I fell a little bit in between the two of them. My mom's really, really outgoing and my dad's more introverted, really cares about his family and stuff.

So I always wanted to make technology. I always like the engineering stuff. This idea that you can build something that has never existed before. You come up with something, it's like poof. Not exactly, right? But yes, that's cool. That's an empowering thing.

But I also wanted to make sure when I went home, you know, my mom would be like, so, where is that technology going? But that it was something that people would care about, that people could understand, and that could have real impact so yes.

I liked making technology that makes people's lives better. I didn't fall in love with robots themselves until I was in college. I had been deciding in high school between being a writer and being an engineer.

Like I always liked that sort of creative process and it's just sort of interesting after like years and years and years that I am starting to actually get to do storytelling with robots.

Some ways that I'm getting to author characters that physically exist in the world and that can do way more than just maybe what's on a page. When I was a freshman at MIT, I decided I wanted to get a campus job and I went home to my -- like living group or whatever and someone was like, do you want to work in a robotics lab? I went into this lab and they were building these awesome social robots.

It's like, there was something about social robots that captured my imagination and like from the first project that we did in that lab, we had built this interactive sort of terrarium. There was this robot that didn't look like a person, almost had like a hand sort of thing at the top.

I mean, then, if there were people around suddenly that sort of hand becomes a face. Not that it had eyes, just in how it's acting and checks out the people along the way, right?

Curious, very simple behavior system, but one that we get right away and so people would come by like felt a little bit Epcot Center or something.

So sometimes it will be like, they wave a lot, get too excited, comes too close, it gets scared and runs back, right. It was really simple, right.

But if you design the behavior system like be that, like that's something there's no speech, like but it's totally you just understand right away.

It was really fun watching people interact with that. So from the very beginning, I always gotten to be able to create robots that people cared about and that were installed in places where I could watch that interaction.

Yes, that was really fun. And when you see people laugh or when you see their eyes light up, I mean, that definitely makes you want to keep doing what you're doing.

Could I imagine a time in my life where I wasn't making social robots? It's really hard, right, like I tried. I did.

Like when I finished my masters, I like -- you know, got a job with NASA. That's cool. Like the jet propulsion laboratory outside of Los Angeles, and we're like building space systems and I was like, this should be really cool, but there's no people.

It's like not on another planet, but just like, you know, out, you know, it's cool, it's interesting. I love that space can inspire people, but I had to come back.

GUPTA: Heather got the social robotics bug, so to speak. So she left NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and launched into the world of social robotics full time. There she met "Data," and the rest, as they say, is history.

KNIGHT: I think maybe my story with "Data" is illustrative. I was working for the French company that creates these robots, "El Deberon," and they basically lent me a robot for several months. Basically, it was like that puppy syndrome, right. They're like you can just take it for a night. Like my -- you know, I was about to start grad school again. It was time for me to give the robot back. I kept pushing it off.

Call one week, another week, a month went by and they're like Heather, we really want our robot back. Eventually, I was like you know what, I can't give it away. I ended up buying it and then, you know, our little robot comedy duo was born.

ROBOT: Do you want to know if I will one day rule the world. Heather explains. Coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KNIGHT: What I do is really fun, but you might be wondering, what's the big idea behind that? How is this actually going to impact the world?

I would say there are a couple things that are possible to play with when you start thinking about the social intelligence of machines. We can make applications for robots or for interfaces that are in our everyday life that are effective.

ROBOT: Heather, help me with my stylish scarf.

KNIGHT: I think that as designers, the idea of being able to take robots out into the wild and to do not all of our testing and standardized laboratory environments, but out where the people are that we're actually designing for.

ROBOT: Ready. Show me a postcard.

KNIGTH: I'm very excited about our future where we have robots in our everyday life. I think entertainment robots are probably one of the first applications that could be fruitful because they can pay for themselves if you have a big audience of people on stage.

I think that artists use the medium of their time and right now that medium is technology. So I think it's the new interface for being creative.

ROBOT: Times Square, home of the tourists. A lot of those in New York, well now, any of you guys tourists?

KNIGHT: One of the things that's really important to me is to create technology that brings us together and doesn't divide us. I have this crazy idea that maybe we could come to a world where we replace not people by robots, but computers by robots.

Like how about making technology more human and I think in effect, that will also make us more able to fulfill our own objectives and to connect with each other.

ROBOT: Have you seen the naked cowboy? He plays the guitar in his underwear in a cowboy hat. Sorry, I forget those props today, but he moves like this. Yes, just shaking his booty. Tourists love that guy.

KNIGHT: There's something about a cubicle. There's something about a screen and sitting in the same place all day, that is really new in modern society, and it's not really very natural. I don't know if that allows us to achieve everything that we might be able to.

But I would dream that there is possibility to still have that same access to the benefits of it technology, but by providing a different vehicle of delivering that.

Technology is a device for accomplishing goals. It's something that makes life potentially easier or it makes life better.

In the end, I want to create applications for people that, for example, could empower the elderly to stay in their homes for longer in a way that's actually safe whether it's helping them with certain functions.

But at the same time, increasing their freedom not like you have to take this pill right now, you know, it could be like to start have these variables where it's tracking like OK.

They were supposed to do that, but they haven't done it for a while, maybe I can think about a different approach that will make them more likely to do that.

Robots have already been helping with the nuclear disaster cleanup in Japan. We're still in pretty early stages of development, but there were some robots that came to look for search and rescue victims at the 9/11 site.

And there's been tons of investment since then, even for disasters like Hurricane Irene.

ROBOT: My trusting audience, I have a confession. I am a tourist too. I've only been in the city a few months and I am French.

KNIGHT: I don't want to live in a world where people are replaced by robots, but I do believe that human robot teams can accomplish things that humans alone or robots alone would never be able to accomplish any time in the short term.

ROBOT: I am sorry if you feel betrayed, but I am actually comfortable with my condition. Even a robot can dream.

KNIGHT: In the end I think it's really about making people flourish.

ROBOT: Pretty inspiring stuff. Thanks, folks. Sanjay, take it away. I have a hot date with a gal named "Siri."

GUPTA: Thanks, "Data." You know, Heather Knight is one of these innovators who is taking the field of robotics and making it really fun. She's also part of a unique group of people who are driven to do more with what they love doing. Sometimes they find that passion quite by accident, and other times, it's as if they were born to do nothing else. In the end, though, they are all agents of change and that's what earns them a spot on this show.

For more on this episode and other agents of change, go to cnn.com/thenextlist and join me on my life's team, cnn.com/sanjay. It's a one-stop spot for all my videos, blogs, tweets and behind-the- scenes photos.

Thanks so much for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Hope to see you back next Sunday for THE NEXT LIST.