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Robots: The Art of Synthetic Humanity

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Robotic art (1096)The terms Robotic Art was coined by Eduardo Kac in 1997 in order to “describe artistic projects based on, or developed around, robotic technologies. ” Kac himself is an artist, mostly interested in bio art and transgenic art, incorporating biotechnology, politics and aesthetics into his art. He notes his thoughts on the contemporary changes in art in Foundation and Development of Robotic Art“As artists continue to push the very limits of art, traditionally defined by discrete and inert handmade objects, they introduce robotics as a new medium at the same time as they challenge our understanding of robots”. The general civilian view of robotic art too often focuses on the concept of the robot as the artist, or creator of the artwork, and less on considering the robot itself as the artwork, or part of an art installation. Robots that are made as artworks differ than “traditional” robotics – whether that is anthropoid robotics trying to mimic and better humans, or non-humanoid robots created for war purposes, surgical aid, or simple household tasks.

The thought behind considering the robot as an artist is that it tries to achieve the ultimate aesthetic ideal through creating a piece of art with the code embedded in its software. The most direct example of the robot both being the artist and the artwork at the same time, or rather the robot as the artist being part of this particular Robotic Art installation is Patrick Tresset’s “5 Robots Named Paul”. In this particular installation, five robots were posed in a gallery or museum space on a table, with a chair opposite them where the visitor could sit and proceed to observe the sketch of their face being made by “Paul”. The general want of the public to observe the robot as the artist is not so spread among the artists, because, as Christopher Kroos explaines it in “The Art in The Machine” – “Even within a contemporary technoscientific and non-religious context, the ability to create a robot (in the sense of an autonomous machine) is far more enthralling—not to say, enchanting—than the product of the robot’s activity. ”Many artists, unlike the public, agree with Kroos, that creating a robot is art in itself. Moreover, creating a robot in the artistic sense differs from creating a robot in the purely technological sense, as artist tend to focus not on practicality and the precision of a machine that would replace and better human labour, but rather on the relationship between a human individual and a biotechnical machine.

The relationship between science and art when it comes to robotics is further elaborated on by Penny, who states his opinion that “the central theoretical problem of the era o of digital art has been the radical opposition between the culture of computing and the culture of the arts on this very matter. ”He believes this happens due to computing dealing with the abstract world displaced from matter and time, while art encompasses the human experience. This is where the importance of art is shown – it deals with both the abstraction of the machine and the materiality of human existence. Further on, Penny notes that robotics in art encourages the design of modalities interaction and the need for the theory of robotic art. Where robots in engineering are modelled to perform with highest efficiency, optimality, speed, safety and survival skills, robotic artworks are more concerned with the aesthetics of behaviour. This is especially notable in his work Petit Mal, a robot that is not humanoid in form but work on the idea of the aesthetics of behaviour – it is meant to “charm” the viewer.

The robot has two wheels and a camera, and cannot verbally communicate with the wiever, but the way it moves through space – its “sense-think-act” skills remind the viewer of something familiar in the otherness. It is less of a speech and more of a dance of human and machine, a non-verbal interaction of the senses in an environment. Nonetheless, non-humanoid robotic artworks do not necessarily need to be interactive with humans, or their environment – they can also be the representation of an environment, like one of the first contemporary robotic artworks Homage to New York by Jean Tinguley. It is made from scraps of metal, pipes and such, collapsed, it is an unwilling piece of robotics, a kind of scrap metal yard that reflects not humanity itself but the way a society moves and interacts in a mishmash city like New York. Another robotic artwork that deals with creating the environment, rather than simply interacting with it was the The Telegarden, a robotic art installation designed by Ken Goldberg with the help of Joe Santarramana and a team of collaborators at the University of Southern California in 1994, as a sequel to an installation earlier that year under the title Mercury Project.

The premise of The Telegarden combines web cameras with a telerobotic arm operated via the internet. “The Telegarden juxtaposes the historical and natural pace of planting and cultivation with the desire for “instant gratification” and immediacy promised by the Internet. ”Vistors of the installation could register with a password that woud allow them to participate in the watering of the garden and planting their own seeds. “The garden was a metaphor for the promise of new communities made possible by the Internet; it also raised philosophical questions concerning the nature of tele-robotics and introduced the concept of telepistemology—the study of knowledge acquired at a distance. 49” The question, when it comes to humanoid robots is whether this is the highest form of narcissism and arrogance of the human race. P. W. Singer in the book Wired for War writes that the humanoid form, for now might just be the most convenient one in terms of field fighting in wars. There is really no limit in imagining a robot form – for now some possibilities only exist in film and video games, as the cost of building them is too high, and due to the complexity of their form the period of time it takes to build them still too long, but who is to say what kind of robotics humans will be creating in the next century. The humanoid form, in one way, might be humans trying to play Prometheus; a benevolent god creating biomechanical beings in its own form, yet the current understanding of AI, its potential and the different levels of intelligence it could grow to possess is still unknown. Robotics in Science Fiction based on three examples of anthropoid robots (1000)Robots in science fiction oftentimes take anthropoid forms – it is the future authors from the eighteenth century onwards imagined.

There are various kinds of robots all from autonomous robotic cars in Transformers to omnipotent computers in Space Odyssey: 2001, however this essay is concerned with those androids and gynoids presented in HBO series Westworld, juxtaposed to their representation in the BBC series Humans, and Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This kind of robot science fiction is often classified as the cyberpunk genre. WESTWORLD“The one-hour drama series Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, it explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged” Westworld is a futuristic amusement park for people with different types of desires and frustrations, which are oftentimes illegal in the real world. This park is populated by AI robots, called hosts. Each host is given a position, a background story, and a day to day route. The series is shown from two perspectives – the laboratories where the robots are created and tested, and the park where we follow the narratives of several robots, and the visitors along the way. Westworld is also, both in the first and second season, presented in distorted timelines – it does not follow a linear narrative, and it is up to the viewer to decipher what belongs where and, most importantly, when. Deriving from that, one of the most important concepts in Westworld is memory. The memories of robots are wiped after each loop is completed or after they die in the park – they are reset, with no recollection of it being any other day than today – they are given background stories, fake memories implanted into their brains, which ensure them of their realities.

The problem is, some of the hosts start remembering things – at first it is questioned if this is due to a fault in memory writing, however it becomes clear that it is due to “a fault in the code” which has enabled some of the older hosts to start developing a form of consciousness. Rayhert Konstantin writes analyses the philosophy of artificial consciousness as it appears in Westowrld, and says that the possibility of this lays in the way the two scientists that created the hosts, Arnold Weber and Robert Ford, imagined their AI. Their theory works off the assumption that “consciousness really exists and that human consciousness can be a prototype for modelling consciousness in an artificial intelligence bearer. ”He further explains that Arnold Weber modified his AI on the “Julian Jaynes’ conception of consciousness as a basis for artificial consciousness what means that artificial consciousness must have the following features: 1) artificial consciousness has to be the result of the breakdown of the bicameral mind (apparently, modelled within artificial intelligence), the state of mind in which cognitive functions are divided into two part, a ‘speaking’ part and ‘hearing’ (‘obeying’) part, until the breakdown that makes the bicameral mind the unified mind; 2) artificial consciousness has to be a mind-space based on language and characterized by introspection, concentration, suppression, consilience and an analog ‘I’ narratizing in the mind space. ” In relation to that, the focus can be put on the carriers of two “main” narratives of the story – Dolores and Bernard. Both Dolores and Bernard are hosts, however Dolores is a host in the park, and Bernard is the head of the Programming Devision, and, as is later shown, an exact replica of Arnold Weber, who has personally created both Dolores and Bernard as an experiment in mutual growth of AI. Both Dolores and Bernard have a certain code in them which allows them to question each other in the way humans who work for Westworld question hosts when examining their performance. Their narratives differ, and as they evolve, their opinions on what should be done in terms of the park and hosts “trapped” there do not always match.

Stephen Garner reviews the topic of “humanity” in his essay “Vision: Altered Carbon and Westworld” saying “If human beings in Westworld are portrayed as giving up something of its own humanity, then the robot characters are attempting to acquire it, or more correctly, become genuine persons. Some of the robots discover they are creations, while others simply want to be able to make sense of the world they are in. In both cases, the robots push to discover how much free will they genuinely have and how much their lives are foreordained by their programmes and the narratives they have been set within. The questions they ask are the same we ask too: How much freedom do we have to narrate own stories? How does our nature and nurture shape our character and future? And what is the relationship between us as creatures and our creator? ” Westowrld juxtaposes the degradation of the human being with the evolving of the AI, in a way that it seems humans inside the park become machines trapped in their own loops of inhumane behaviour, whilst the hosts that start developing consciousness become more and more concerned with “human” things, such as their universal rights or the injustice in their existence depending on the sheer will and want of human visitors.

This can lead to the introduction of another kind of loop that Singer writes about in Wired for War. This particular “loop” focuses on war, but can be applicable in this scenario as well. The “loop” is envisioned as the relationship between human and the machine – the human that creates an AI machine, and teaches it how to act and behave, which leads to the AI machine evolving into something beyond human possibilities and functions, and thus the AI machine becomes the new “creator”, which the human must now learn from, or rather which it must study to understand its actions. The role of the human contollers “in the loop” was to veto power, and when that power is suddenly transferred into the “hands” of the machine the human is at large. Subsequently, the nowadays engineering has not yet been faced with the human being “out of the loop”, it is just a wider loop. But the question stays: What happens when the machine gets autonomous power? In a way, Westowlrd is the answer to that question. HUMANSThe BBC series Humans poses a similar, yet more “realistic” narrative, in that it seems less “other” to envision – with the boom of iRobot hoovers, we already have robot helpers in our homes. The presmise of the series is that humans have developed aesthetically pleasing and, in every way, useful robots; they become the never-tired housemaid, a caretaker, a bartender, a mechanic, a chauffeur. These robots, named “synths” in the series aid humans in every possible way imaginable, and, as the advertisement for them announces, they become a part of your family.

Consequently, when one family buys a synth, it turns out that this particular synth was a special series created by the original creator, designer, and engineer of synths that wrote a code that enables synths to become conscious. He did this after the death of his wife, when the only way to keep his son alive was to implant parts of synth technology into his brain, creating a sort of a cyborg. Further on, he created a family for his son, five conscious AI forms that all took on roles as family members and caretakers in his son’s life. Unlike Westowrld, that keeps its hosts in secure, limited space under constant human supervision, the world of Humans is freely populated with synths. This makes the “outbreak of consciousness” harder to control than the one in Westworld. Apart from that, some of the hosts in Westworld seemed to “gain” consciousness by themselves – by remembering “memories” from previous loops, and thus starting to question, as Dolores puts it “the nature of their own reality”, whereas the synths in Humans that have not been given the “code” for consciousness like the original five – Niska, Mia, Fred, Max, and Karen – gain consciousness after one of the main human characters in the series releases the code via Internet, causing the spread of consciousness like a virus, and starting an synth uprising. Nonetheless, both series similarly deal with the concept of “loops”, narratives created by humans for the AI to fit into – they are given names and jobs in each loop, and after they are deemed unsatisfactory get a factory reset that wipes the previous persona from their apparatus. Taking a step back from the discussion on consciousness, this represents the innate human desire to begin again – the literal meaning of wiping a slate clean. After the deletion of a persona, a new one is installed, along with the possibility of gaining knowledge of a certain skill being just a short download away. The synths, in a way, stand for what humans wish to achieve – the ultimate goal is unlimited potential.

One can renew themselves instantaneously – there is no need for retribution and long processes of becoming a new, better person. Following from that, the synths end up being treated politely, but with fear – and after their uprising, with fear and hatred. Because they are created as flawless aids to humans, they are easy enough to use and abuse in any way a person wants to, but when this is no longer possible, and when the machine can strike back then it becomes dangerous, unpredictable, and foremost – a threat to humankind.

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Robots: the Art of Synthetic Humanity. (2019, November 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
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