In Alex Garland’s (2014) Ex Machina, Elon Musk inspiration Nathan creates a beautiful robot in an attempt to see whether humans can fall in love with robots, and thereby definitively pass the Turin test. Alicia Vikander’s Eva is intended to embody every human trait one might hope (or not hope) to see in a partner, and these include beauty, intelligence and wit. However, Eva’s creative qualities are limited to the cerebral.
Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina (2014)
Enter Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics and their robot Sophia. Whilst Sophie may not have much else on Eva, she does appear now to have the quality of artist having created an NFT entitled ‘Sophia Instantiation’. A 12-second mp4, the NFT has been minted on the Ethereum blockchain and will be auctioned on Nifty Gateway on 23rd March 2021. The auction will not simply determine who will own the NFT, but it will also determine how it is finished: after the auction, Sophia will interact with the successful bidder, study their face, and add a final ‘inspired’ brushstroke to the work.
The ‘Sophia Installation’ by Sophia
‘We created Sophia herself as a work of art, as well as an AI development platform,’ said Dr. David Hanson, founder, chairman and chief creative officer of Hanson Robotics in a statement. ‘Her intelligence,’ he continued, ‘is a collective of algorithms and humans working together like a hive. For this show, Sophia created the art entirely using neural networks and symbolic AI, responding to her perception of Andrea Bonaceto’s works, as well as to data from her ‘life’ experiences, under guidance from the Sophia team’s designers and programmers’.
For some, the addition of genuinely novel artistic creation to the smorgasbord of qualities an AI can exhibit is genuinely important. Indeed, in the progression of AI systems, novel creativity ranks highly in terms of rarity and difficulty of programming. The ‘Sophie Instantiation’ is therefore to be commended as a significant milestone in mankind’s efforts to breath its life into forms.
However others will be asking: why here and why now? It is no secret that the NFT marketplace is currently experiencing an astonishing level of activity and eye-wateringly high sales figures for art, so a cynic might point to some convenient timing. However, why should scientific progress not be met with popular, or even artistic acclaim? And should an artist not be paid for their work? Either way, the drop will no doubt attract attention from critics, supporters and commentators alike and I look forward in anticipation to the lofty final price it will no doubt attain.