Grant Imahara on geeky delights at Edmonton Expo

Grant Imahara GigCity Edmonton ExpoTimes have changed since Grant Imahara was a kid.

The geeks discovered their power. That’s a big one.

“Certainly being a geek when I was in high school in the late ‘80s, it was not a team of endearment,” says the former host of MythBusters who’s appearing this weekend at the Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo, “but thanks to MythBusters and thanks to The Big Bang Theory, these days it’s pretty cool to be a geek. People are not afraid to wear that name as a badge of honour, as I do on the MythBusters, and like they do at the Edmonton Expo – it’s a celebration of all things geeky. It’s an entire weekend dedicated to people who like geeky things. And there are conventions like this all over the world.”

Appearing in Edmonton this weekend are stars like Alice Cooper, Kunal Nayyar, Dean Cain, Amy Acker and dozens of other heroes of modern geekdom. According to the Department of the Painfully Obvious, Comic-Cons are a huge deal these days. It’s not hard to see why. They are events where grown men, and sometimes women, are free to practice cosplay (costume play) and LARPING (live action role playing), which to children is generally known as “play.” Comic-Cons are an excuse act like a kid. Maybe some people are making up for lost childhoods. Who knows? Who cares? It’s fun.

“It’s an awesome thing that geekiness offers,” Imahara says. “You can enjoy reading comic books and watching sci-fi on TV and collecting toys. It’s certainly a way of not having to grow up, or at least a way of embracing the things you loved as a child in your adulthood.”

Being unemployed is seriously not included on that list. It was announced last month that Imahara and his fellow junior MythBusters Kari Byron and Tory Belleci are leaving the show after a solid 10 year run. In a recent phone interview, Imahara couldn’t talk about what happened or what he’s going to do next, but at least he can talk about robots. He loves robots.

Grant Imahara GigCity Edmonton ExpoBefore MythBusters, Imahara came from eight years of doing special effects for Industrial Light and Magic in movies too numerous to mention, and was responsible for designing and operating the Energizer Bunny and R2D2 (from Star Wars Episodes 1-3). He also designed “Geoff Peterson,” Craig Ferguson’s animatronic skeleton sidekick. Imahara will reveal he’s gotten a couple of inquiries from people interested having him as a consultant in serious robotics projects, but he says he prefers show business. Operating a remote control unit for robot “performers” is an art as fulfilling as being a celebrity in front of the camera. Among other roles, he got to play Mr. Sulu in a Star Trek web series.

“They’re both cool in different ways,” Imahara says. “Being behind the camera and controlling the Energizer Bunny is really great, because in this case the robot is the star. Just as people watch actors, people are watching that performance, and if you do it right, it looks like these robots are making their own decisions, that they’re sentient.”

On that topic – for real – the 43-year-old electronics expert says society is “closer than ever” to having true artificial intelligence, or “AI.” The trick is figuring out how to tell the computer how to tell itself what to do. But Siri and Roomba are just the beginning. Maybe they could get married, have kids, program themselves. Your house would be clean and well-organized. Imahara marvels how far the idea has been embedded into pop culture, with Terminator on one side, the AI love story tale Her on the other, not to mention half of all science fiction novels ever written.

“I feel like we are closer than ever to having a sentient robot assistant, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen any time soon, at least in a useful way,” he says. “I know a lot of people are afraid of giving a robot true sentience. There are two camps, people who are looking forward to it, and people who are deathly afraid of it. I’m looking forward to it.”

Next step: Robot actors in a reality show. You can build it, Grant!