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A Painting Robot With An Ego As Fragile As A Real Artist’s

Robots are so smart, they’re able to do practically everything flesh-and-blood artists can do whether sculpture, portraiture or light painting. But with the good comes the bad, as Benjamin Grosser, an MFA student at the University of Illinois, shows: He created a robot that's — how to put this gently? — a thin-skinned neurotic.

The Interactive Robotic Painting Machine is deeply influenced by what people say to it, "just as we [artists] subtly (or not so subtly) are influenced by what others tell us," Grosser says.

When left alone, the robot follows its own hard-wired heart, using cheery colors to paint anodyne abstract canvases that’d look perfectly at home in a dentist’s office. When you talk to it, though, or sing to it or, as Grosser did, criticize the hell out of its work (there’s a built-in mike for sharing all your helpful opinions), the robot internalizes what you’ve said and converts the audio waves into data. That, in turn, actually changes how the robot paints. It'd be like Picasso painting in the style of Albert Bierstadt just because someone said his brushstrokes sucked. Sens-i-tive.

The world’s got enough artists with egos that could shatter in a light wind; it really doesn’t need an automated one. Except that the Interactive Robotic Painting Machine makes for a fascinating experiment: When the machine’s constantly bombarded by "Not that color again!" and "Couldn't you try painting something on the other side of the canvas?" you’ve got to wonder: Do the paintings suffer?

Oh, yeah. As Grosser tells it:

When I'm critiquing it, I perceive the machine as painting over previously painted regions more often, more frequently getting stuck on one or two colors while ignoring the others, and tending to quickly home in on a preferred painting speed.


The composition and color distribution of critiqued paintings don't match up to those made without real-time critique.

In short, heeding what people said about its work was an open invite to failure. Let that be a lesson to all you aspiring Picassos out there.

For more on the Interactive Robotic Painting Machine, including a cool collaboration with a violinist, visit Grosser's website.

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  • C C

    The machine will paint paintings in absolute silence, but is merely influenced by what it hears.  As the artist says on his website, "It is important to understand that what the machine paints is not a direct mapping of what it hears. Instead, the system is making its own decisions about what it does while being influenceable by others. To understand this, I suggest you consider the machine an artist in its own right. Just as a human artist is influenced by what they hear (an influence that is sometimes easy to see and other times not so easy), the machine is influenced by what it hears. What it makes will be different in the absence of input, but it is not easy to trace how any input manifests as change."

  • Ayesha Khan

    Most Probably the Robot is programmed to follow the Sound that is made of Vibrations, if one looks at the basic technology its a simple procedure... Whats making it looks something amazing is only the way its presented to people..... A lot of Toys and Video games work on the same kind of technology and strategies----------  

  • PamE.

    I think it needs some art lessons. And the noise it makes! Just watching the demo hurt my ears. Do we have to take the fun out of everything?

  • David Kaiser

    Yeah, but will it get drunk and sleep with its patron's wife?

    Will it cut off its own microphone?

    Will it burn its own work in a fit of angst? 

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Time Coach

    "Time to be Extraordinary!"