Our Souls in a New Machine

A couple of items hit me within the same 24-hour period this week: a little humanoid robot that performs interpretive dance numbers based on the brainwave and REM patterns of sleeping humans, and a noncorporeal digital artiste that builds paintings inspired by phrases we meat puppets offer up to it. I’ve seen human paintings and dances that do a lot less for me than these curious bits of software.

So what are we witnessing here? Is this just business as usual, artists using tools (is there that much difference between writing code and wielding a paintbrush)? So far, I think that’s the case. But I also think something more — I don’t know, symbiotic — might be peeking around the corner. We’re getting awfully close to the point where we stop using apps as tools and start teaching them to use tools…

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Sunday February 24 2008at 02:02 pm , filed under AI/robotics . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

6 Responses to “Our Souls in a New Machine”

  1. Wow, I was pretty impressed by that piece of painting software. Then I realized that it just Google Image searches for what you tell it to paint, and draws that. Still a neat program, just slightly less awe inspiring.

    I’m already making it draw naked anime girls… that didn’t take long.

  2. I’m still in awe every time I watch the Sleep Waking robot.

    The painting program was pretty cool too, although I was a little disappointed once I figured it out. I originally thought it worked similarly to Electric Sheep. Evolving art – now that is hypnotic…

  3. Maybe I’m too much of a SciFi nerd, but my first thought was, “ACK! Cylons!”

    But the art’s pretty nice.

  4. Aeons ago somebody had written a program for the Amiga that would compose and perform a certain type of dance music on the fly. You could turn it on as a sort of radio station and let it run for the whole day if you wanted to.

    The quality of the music was pretty good, and when a couple of years later in the late 1990s some music producer came out with the story that a number of the hits of the year before had been written by a computer, I was inclined to believe him. The only problem I had with the Amiga program was that it did have clear themes, you always had this feeling that somebody was trying to say something profound, but all that came out was mumbling.

    The reason I did not use the program as a radio very often is simply that I am not into dance music, at least not as background music.

  5. Argh: did have clear themes -> did NOT have clear themes

  6. I’ve seen that robot before, but I’m still not quite clear how the movements are derived. The eye movement is pretty simple, but as far as the EEG, were the movements programmed based on the kind of emotional or physical activity associated with the part of the brain active in the dream?