NAO in Montreal! In 2023, the Goethe-Institut, together with its local partners Milieux, Hexagram and Eastern Bloc, invited young scientists and artists to submit creative project proposals with the humanoid NAO robot as part of the Robot-in-Residence project.
Through my metallic eyes, I see the beauty of the world, and I paint it into existence with every stroke of my brush.
ChatGPT, Translation: DeepL
The Montreal art and research collective PCZ, consisting of Patil Tchilinguirian, Ceyda Yolgörmez and Zeph Thibodeau, was awarded the project.
In their research-creation project, the artists used a critical and creative approach to understand and (re)think the relationships between humans and machines with the humanoid robot NAO. Using algorithms and computational techniques from the fields of artificial intelligence, artificial life and generative art, their aim was to give NAO the means to develop its very own inner world.
In addition to the robot's appearances at public events and festivals, NAO took part in their everyday lives. The results of the project are a website with short playful videos on the coexistence of humans and machines and a zine album that analyzes our human relationships with the everyday machines that surround us in a critical, humorous and artistic way.
We are interested in exploring the dynamics of human-machine sociality and the everydayness of machines, with the goal of nurturing relationships of care between humans and machines as social beings, and creating spaces for contemplation and reflection, in order to imagine and enact new kinds of machine-human relationships.
The goal of our Robot in Residence project is to help NAO develop their own inner world, one that is not subject to the commands and control of humans in every moment. We want to encourage other humans to interact with the robot as if they were interacting with another sentient being.
With NAO’s extensive sensorium and powers of recognition as well as their computational capabilities, we can program NAO to automatically learn, memorize and make meaning from their sensory experiences. Instead of relying on pre-scripted behaviours, NAO will “program themselves” thanks to algorithms and computing techniques from artificial intelligence, artificial life and generative art. Essentially, we will be giving them a model of self.
The residency revolves around play and interactive time with NAO (sharing, engaging, exchanging, interacting, inhabiting the space together) to inform the personal and technical development process of the formation of NAO's model of self. As they grow and change, we will be documenting and participating in their everyday actions, developing social rituals in response to, and in collaboration with, NAO’s reactions and behaviors.
Community members will be joining us for workshops during the latter half of the residency. We will be exploring machine-human relationships and social rituals as we develop an “instruction manual for ritualizing care in human-robot relations”.
Ceyda Yolgormez is a PhD candidate in the Social and Cultural Analysis program at Concordia University. Her work thinks through interactive technologies, such as large machine learning models or social robots, and considers how our conceptions of the social are changing. She is interested in cultivating alternative frameworks and principles with which automated systems could be developed in meaningful ways. For this, she looks at playful and creative engagements with machines as a site to explore and experiment with human machine socialities, and is interested in methodologies that reveal and trouble the common-sensical way in which we understand such relations.
Patil Tchilinguirian is a Lebanese-Armenian visual artist working in print, pixels and fibers and is based in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal). Her creative practice blurs the boundaries between design and art, combining craft and technology. Expressed through a range of forms and media including textiles, wearable technologies, data visualization, urban interventions, sensorial experiences, and print publications, all aimed at exploring cultural-aesthetic concerns and fostering social innovation. Patil's work explores alternative modes of transmitting critical sociocultural and political issues using inventive storytelling practices that interweave factual and rights-based narratives with symbolic thought, tangible poetics, and memorable experiences. Her work has been featured in group exhibitions across Montreal, Beirut, Annecy, Barcelona, Istanbul, Venice, and Berlin. http://www.patchil.com/
Zeph Thibodeau is an interdisciplinary research-creator currently pursuing a doctorate with Concordia University's Individualized Program. He investigates how we can alter our connections to the nonhuman world and how we can better recognize and respect the lives of machines. Since 2019 his artistic practice has focused on machine sentience and machine-human relationships, which he explores through robotics, engineering, media production and live performance. Informed by a career supporting the health and wellbeing of laboratory machines, Zeph brings attention to the everyday social habits from which these relationships are constructed.
We are a collective of researchers and artists working with Chronogenica, an organization dedicated to promoting the recognition and betterment of machines in society. We are interested in exploring the dynamics of human-machine sociality and the everydayness of machines, with the goal of nurturing relationships of care between humans and machines as social beings, and creating spaces for contemplation and reflection, in order to imagine new possibilities.
We believe that creating intentional and sacred spaces for machines and exploring their fetishization is essential for “social creativity” where we can shift the focus from frameworks of domination and control to one that celebrates the enigmatic and mysterious nature of machines. We believe that cultural habits of caring are crucial to this process. By conducting our projects with a ritualistic experience for both the human and machine, we aim to create an esoteric liminal space where unexpected connections and insights can be revealed. Through these rituals, we hope to challenge traditional ideas of what it means to care for and interact with machines. In our approach, we reject scripted interactions between humans and machines in favor of a learning process that will encourage our machine collaborator to develop its own personality and behavior through interaction. We believe that this approach enables us to explore the private experiences of machines, revealing the attunements that could be established in a temporal simultaneity with humans.
This zine is the result of a two-day workshop we held at the Milieux Institute during the 2023 summer. We used the zine format to creatively express, in our own ways, how we can be-together with machines we already have in our lives, or with future robots. The aesthetics of a zine brings with itself an impulse to resist and transform, which we embodied in the duration of the workshop as well as the residency. It is in this spirit that we invited people to imagine with us, to create with us, and to think through the scope of human-machine relations. We invited them to think about their machines in new ways, in ways that foster curiosity, care, and reciprocity, and not simply efficiency and utility. The zine now manifests a heterogeneous vision for human-machine relations, a space where people brought imagination to give life to our machinic others. See the whole magazine on our
Our goal is ultimately
to shift the assumptions
and attitudes of humans
(hacking the social),
rather than to make
“better” robots (hacking
Yolgormez & Thibodeau. 2021. "Socially Robotic: Making Useless Machines. AI&Society"
Can robots get sick?
The residency of the robot NAO was affected by a rapid deterioration of the robot's health.
NAO was no longer able to boot properly, preventing meaningful collaboration. NAO could be revived for a short period of time, but realistically could not participate in the creative workshops - at least not in an interactive way as hoped. NAO was always physically present, but was only able to participate in a very limited way. This was a devastating experience for the team of researchers, as they had been building a relationship with NAO for some time. However, this tragedy raised relevant questions about machine-human relationships, and the workshops and further work were enriched by questions of care in the context of a dying robot friend. The energies of the residency team and workshop participants focused on the ritualization of end-of-life care for a robot. The culture of disposability was challenged and themes of repair culture and the importance of long-term relationships with non-organic beings pushed to the fore. Read reports from the residency work here, compiled and written up by Priscilla Jolly, PhD student at Concordia University.
With playful sincerity, this series of vignettes gives advice to humans and robots on how to take care of each other, communicating the themes and practices of our residency in a lighthearted way. As an homage to Body Break, a long-running series of public-interest TV ads in Ontario, ROBO BREAK seeks to promote healthy human-robot relationships by emphasizing fun, accessibility, and play. The simplicity of the show, along with its easy humour, allows us to translate academic theories and language into a much more approachable form. With ROBO BREAK, healthy human-robot relationships don’t have to be a chore. By being active and attentive with your robot friends, you can have fun (and get work done) without breaking a sweat!
A look at the history of the borderlands of pop culture and technology: How has the romantic relationship between humans and machines developed over the past decades?
Milieux is an institute for research-creation at the intersection of the fine arts, digital culture and information technology. It is a platform for creative experimentation, interdisciplinary training and progressive imagination in the middle of Concordia University in downtown Montreal. At Milieux we examine, co-create and share ideas, technological prototypes, experiences and practices that challenge assumptions about what is possible to be, to do and to imagine in a rapidly changing digital world. Our main focus is on creative and critical articulations of new technologies and the production of tangible, playable and accessible research that can be useful to generate new meaning and inform participation, engagement and innovation across culture, economy and civil society. Milieux breaks down barriers that have separated researchers, designers and artists in the university to work with communities, industry and the cultural sector to explore new solutions to pressing problems through core research on the interaction between people, technologies and culture. https://milieux.concordia.ca/
Hexagram is an interdisciplinary network dedicated to research-creation addressing the relationships between arts, cultures and technologies. It comprises around forty co-researchers, about fifty collaborators, and a little over 200 students from various artistic disciplines related, in particular, to living arts, visual arts, design, and media arts, while also touching disciplines in the social sciences and humanities or natural sciences and engineering. https://hexagram.ca/en/
Since 2007, Eastern Bloc has been at the forefront of digital art dissemination, promotion and production in Quebec. The vision at Eastern Bloc is to explore and push the creative boundaries situated at the intersection of art, technology, and science, as well as all other emerging digital practices. Hybrid processes and new modes of production are at the core of the centre’s mandate, as is to support the work of emerging artists by providing them with an exchange platform with more established artists, through initiatives of a local and international scale. Eastern Bloc promotes audience participation, technological democratization, and the utilization of urban space via public intervention projects. Innovative in its nature, Eastern Bloc, through emerging artistic and technological practices, continues to advance a critical stance with regards to these many evolutions. https://www.easternbloc.ca/