Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Future with Art and Robots

One of the most fascinating things to me about industrialization is Henry Ford’s creation of the assembly line in 1913 [1]. It’s applications in modern technology are two-faced. On one hand, the efficiency is integral for a large-scale economy. On the other hand, mass production of identical products is wiping culture clean of uniqueness. The response many artists have had to this is to take a critical look at a foreseen future of mechanization.

I remember seeing Bicentennial Man when I was around 10 (see trailer below) [2]. While it may not be the most critical and intellectual critique of robotics, it still comments on issues like conformity, individualism, and human emotions in a highly technological society. I see their attempt to humanize their robot protagonist with compassionate emotions as their way of perpetuating compassionate feelings in humanity, even amongst growing industrialization.

I also came across Dave Hanson this week, who has worked to develop robots with realistic human emotions and reactions [3]. His live demonstration of his Einstein robot is like watching a science fiction movie come to life. It is this optimism and excitement about robotics that I grew up with and that shapes how I perceive modern technology now.

However, I can understand a more cynical approach, especially when assembly line efficiency was associated with Hitler and the fascism regime by philosopher Walter Benjamin at the time of World War II [4]. What came to mind when I read his analysis was a recent technological disaster in Microsoft’s artificial intelligence project, which had to be shut down after becoming a “Hitler-loving sex robot” within 24 hours of being live on Twitter [5]. It’s a bit of an unnerving coincidence that the kind of robotic technology Hitler sought to integrate into his country would later become his biggest fan.

The reality is that industrial technology is not perfect and the future of its uses relies on humans to do the right thing with it. Art involving robotics can either suggest a positive direction to take with the technology, or – in the case of Ken Feingold’s artwork – serve as a warning. 

"Hell" Ken Feingold (2013

[1] "Ford’s Assembly Line Starts Rolling." A&E Television Networks, 01 Dec. 2015. Web. 03 July 2016. <>

[2] Bicentennial Man. Prod. Chris. Columbus. Dir. Chris. Columbus. 1999. Web. <>

[3] "Robots That "show Emotion"" David Hanson:. TED, Feb. 2009. Web. 03 July 2016. <>

[4] Davis, Douglas. "The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction (An Evolving Thesis: 1991-1995)." Leonardo 28.5 (1995): 381. Web.

[5]Molloy, Mark. "Microsoft 'deeply Sorry' after AI Becomes 'Hitler-loving Sex Robot'" The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 26 Mar. 2016. Web. 03 July 2016. <>
[6] Feingold, Ken. Ken Feingold: Artworks and Documentation. Web. 03 July 2016.


  1. Hello Kristin,

    I find it interesting that the film you listed tried humanizing a robot and making it more a friend than foe to humanity. Given that films in the united states these days often portray robots as beings with malicious intent, it's nice to know that robots were depicted as emotional beings over 15 years ago. Also, I find your commentary on the misuse of industrial technology quite interesting. I never really stopped to think about the fact that these advances in technology, while beneficial to our society's growth, were helping people with malicious intent. I am interested in knowing what you believe the "right" use of robotics would be and what you believe would be ethical in the field of robotics whether it be in the implementation of art or day to day life.

  2. Kristine,

    Hello! I was incredibly intrigued by your analysis of robots and their capacity to express emotion. I think movies have a profound effect of shaping our view on machines, and often times they can be portrayed as malevolent creations (i.e. exMachina, Metropolis, Blade Runner). With this, there's this misconceived notion that robotics are advanced to greater levels than what is actually true. At the end of the day, the main separating factor between humans and robots is in our ability to reason. Using IBM's Watson and Microsoft's failed chatbot "Tay" as primal examples, there still remains a significant gap between robot and man. In this way, the public perception of robotics, greatly influenced by movie production, is at a level higher than reality. I'd love to get your opinions on this, but I really enjoyed the blog as a whole!