‘I Do Things With Robots’
“I do things with robots,” Patrick Tresset explains in a heavy French accent. “I use robots as very stylised actors, to represent certain human traits. It’s about a representation of humanity.” Tresset, an artist by trade, is currently spending his days in a specially-designed classroom near Southwark tube station in South London with 20 robot students, as part of his latest exhibition: Machine Studies.
How Do You Make A Robot Nervous?
What’s impressive about the project is that whilst the students’ actions are synchronised, each robot pupil is unique in its actual movements. Some appear to work with vigour while others approach tasks slower and even seem apprehensive. Tresset has also programmed them to express different traits, like nervousness or shyness. How do you make a robot nervous? “You just send the data faster to the motor.”
Who’s In Control?
Class discussions are held in morse code in tribute to Tresset’s grandad, who taught him the method. He’s also taught his pupils to draw in a style based on his own technique. Tresset says he can’t predict what their portraits will look like. “I am always surprised, I am never sure what they’re going to do,” he told WIRED. The magazine’s senior editor, Victoria Turk, who sat for three robotic portrait artists, described it as an intimidating experience.
Tresset himself shows no fear. He believes that their achievements are equivalent to the ‘first tier’ of primary school. Neither does he believe that robots pose a risk to human artists just yet. Whilst his robots do sign their own work, he ultimately considers himself to be the author. He’s currently interested in developments in machine learning, and says that one day, he’d like his robots to develop their own style.