Our previous lecture focused on surveillance and remote sensing, while much of the reading discussed artificial life and intelligence. The work of Yves Klein, one of the artists mentioned in the textbook, merges these concepts, combining the technologies of A.I. and robotic sensors that gather information on environments to create his “living sculptures.” These sculptures, inspired by organic forms and mental processes, utilize neural network software that simulates modes of movement, behavior, and sensory input for A.I.
Octofungi is one of several works in Klein’s series of living sculptures. A polyurethane sculpture resembling a mushroom with eight appendages, Octofungi is equipped with a neural network program and multiple sensors, which allow it to gather info on and navigate its environment. When something changes in its surroundings, it will recognize and “evaluate the magnitude and impetuousness of the change,” which in turn triggers either fear or curiosity in the brain and instructs the sculpture to move about (Wilson 349). It not only perceives light and movement, but can judge the “gentleness” or “agressiveness” of nearby beings and reacts to each in different ways (livingsculpture.com).
Octofungi is an interactive piece that performs simple autonomous behavior, as it has no remote controls or external computer connects, using only the information “learned” by its A.I. to navigate a space freely. Through this autonomy, Klein’s work questions how we define “life.” Although the sculpture does not possess carbon-based organs or undergo organic life processes, it can emulate the behaviors of a living organism using the simplest of electronics and programmed neural networks. It does appear to live a life of its own—not life in the traditional sense of being organic, but by exerting some level of autonomy and being able to actively interact with and adapt to an environment without remote assistance. Still, Octofungi is not self-aware, nor is it fully autonomous. It still lacks several key elements, such as requiring and knowing how to search for nutrients, or having reproductive capabilities.
The sculpture, a fusion of two different organic forms, serves as a representation of species interdependence throughout our world and its importance for survival. In describing this work, Klein describes how we as humans, as links in the massive web of life on Earth, endanger ourselves by continuously depleting our environment and ignoring symbiosis, consequently “weakening our change of survival in the long term” (livingsculpture.com). Klein has also mentioned ideas for creating colonies of such living sculptures:
“My ultimate goal is to create sculptures that can replicate, and consequently, have the ability to change their form and behavior as the generations pass…the parent sculptures would need to be sophisticated enough to assemble a copy of themselves and imbue the child with a new genetic code.” (Wilson 350)
Such an endeavor could further complicate and raise questions on what constitutes “living,” as human-constructed and programmed machinery become increasingly capable of mimicking biological behaviors on their own.
– Dorothy Boyd
Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology by Stephen Wilson