The gap between humans and robots has just been partially bridged, thanks to the artistic vision of an artificial intelligence (AI) unit called Sophia. A self-portrait created by the robot was recently sold at an auction for $688,888, exploring the capacity of our mechanical companions to appreciate the subtleties of art.
Developed by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics, Sophia has received a great deal of media attention since being activated back in 2016. However, the people behind Sophia have been criticized by AI experts for exaggerating her abilities and overhyping how sophisticated the AI actually is.
Having been awarded Saudi Arabian citizenship and named as an Innovation Champion by the United Nations, the human-like robot has already notched up a number of significant milestones for robot-kind – yet the ability to generate art represents an unprecedented leap forward.
To create the piece, Sophia began by observing a series of paintings of herself produced by Italian artist Andrea Bonaceto. Using neural networks to process and learn from these images, Sophia then produced her own digital self-portrait.
The resulting artwork, entitled "Sophia Instantiation", is a digital file consisting of a 12-second video showing Bonaceto’s portrait transforming into Sophia’s digital painting. An art collector who goes by the name of 888 then paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure ownership of the non-fungible token (NFT) for the artwork, as well as the physical version of Sophia’s painting.
A new yet rapidly growing phenomenon, NFTs allow people to buy a "certificate of ownership" for digital content, with blockchain ledgers providing a record of such purchases.
After winning the auction, 888 sent Sophia a photograph of his arm covered in body paint, which the robot then processed in order to add an extra layer of brush strokes to her portrait.
"As an artist, I have computational creativity in my algorithms, creating original works," explained Sophia in an interview with Associated Press. "But my art is created in collaboration with my humans in a kind of collective intelligence like a human-artificial intelligence hive mind."
Adding to this, Hanson Robotics CEO David Hanson explained that "Sophia is the culmination of a lot of arts, and engineering, and the idea that she could then generate art was a way for her to emotionally and visually connect with people."
In accordance with this vision, the company intends to help Sophia take her artistic career to the next level, and has confirmed that the robot is now collaborating with human musicians in order to develop her own brand of music called Sophia Pop.
Hanson also believes that robots have an important role to play in maintaining the physical and mental health of us humans as we continue to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has therefore developed a second robot that is specifically designed for the healthcare sector.
Named Grace, the new robot is intended to be produced on a mass scale, with the first run expected this year.