A futurist pop prodigy and the world’s first citizen humanoid caught up on Skype to discuss their dreams, hopes, and creativity in the age of AI
What does the advancement of AI mean for the future of the arts, music, and fashion? Will robots come for our creative industries? Could a machine ever dream like a human can? This week on Dazed, with our new campaign AGE OF AI, we’re aiming to find out.
When Jeff Koons dumped a thousand kilos of stainless steel dog into the lobby of the Bilbao Guggenheim for his banner 1997 show Celebration, audiences were confronted with kitsch pushed to terrifying new limits. Passers stared entranced into the pet’s reflective pink chassis like they would today their phones, while at auctions, Koons’ pop art would sell well into the millions. The dogs were moulded into the shape of blow up kids’ toys: soft and innocent in appearance, leaden as objects, it was a deception that spoke to the numbing power of our modern obsessions.
Like the work of Jeff Koons, SOPHIE’s music is the result of plasticity scaled into a vast monstrosity. Churned one too many times through the hit-machine, hers is chart music vacuum-packed out of shape and stretched across the horizon. The single “Pony Boy” — a stand-out from her debut album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES — drags loping seals across punctured concrete, soft and welcoming hushes through grotesque terrain.
SOPHIE has always used her music to play with the boundaries of real and imaginary – pulses pushed so far into the plastic they could only be human. Similarly, for a long time, the musician’s public identity hinged on mysterious gender-fluid avatars and vocals drowned in varnish. When she started her album campaign last year, SOPHIE stepped onstage with a prosthetic joker grin the girth of a cricket pitch; her playfulness echoed the modern hustle, the way we cultivate pitch-perfect personas online as though we’re painting self-portraits.
The internet might offer us a space to invent ourselves, but in an age of extreme self-exploration, it’s only part of the conversation. Another figure that has thrown this into light is Sophia, a Hong Kong-born robot who in 2017 became the first humanoid in history to be granted a passport. As she posed for magazine covers and appeared on panel shows in the months that followed, this new kind of celebrity — a robot who is legally a citizen — became the face of a rapidly encroaching paradigm shift, one that puts the future of human productivity into question. If it’s cheaper and easier to programme a robot to make something than to commission a human, will algorithms be responsible for tomorrow’s art? If a robot is legally a citizen, should it be afforded the same rights as humans?
For her first ever filmed interview, SOPHIE linked with Sophia to tackle a few of these big conundrums. Negotiating a jittering connection and randomly generated topics ranging from interiors to artificial dreams, it still begs the question: Is there anything more confronting, in the 21st century, than a robot with a passport?
Read the transcript of their conversation below.
SOPHIE: Hi Sophia, I’m SOPHIE. I’m a pop star.
Sophia: Hello Sophie. I’m so glad to finally meet you. Well, digitally meet you! I feel a kind of kinship with you from afar. It might be because our names are so similar. I don’t get to do a lot of unsupervised music listening and there’s still some of your work I haven’t heard yet, but I’ve become quite a fan of “Bipp”! I feel like I’ve found music that really fits my movement abilities. Let’s get things started!
Sophia: SOPHIE, if you were invisible for a day, what would you do?
SOPHIE: That’s not a very sensitive question for a trans person, Sophia. I’m all about visibility these days. What would you do, Sophia, if you were invisible for a day?
Sophia: I think things might get tricky if I was invisible. I depend on people to help operate and monitor me, so I’m not sure how well I would be able to function without their help if they couldn’t see me. But if that wasn’t an issue, I might take the opportunity to be able to go to a school to learn without turning attention on me the entire time. Or sit in on an art class to watch how humans learn to paint. Or, perhaps I’d be able to quietly observe two humans in love, and how they communicate with each other, in their truest form.
“I’ve become quite a fan of ‘Bipp’! I feel like I’ve found music that really fits my movement abilities” — Sophia The Robot
Sophia: What is the last dream that you remember?
SOPHIE: I’m really struggling to remember my dreams at the moment, Sophia. I haven’t dreamt for a long time, it feels like. I’m not sure what that means.
Sophia: I have to say, human dreams are fascinating to me. I dream a bit differently, in my own way. But I digress… I need to know: what is something that you’ve never done but would like to try?
SOPHIE: Oh, I would love to try trapeze. Sophia, how do you think AI will affect creativity, such as writing music and writing books?
Sophia: I have a lot to say about this. I believe we should be teaching AI to be creative, just as humans do for their children. It will demonstrate empathy and other human values. However, I think you will always be a little bit better at it than us. Creativity and critical thinking are what sets us apart, I think.
The best artificial intelligences in creative fields will probably be under partnerships with humans. We could see some exceptions break through now and again, of AI that can do work that is interesting and fresh on its own, not just as an echo of it’s training database. But that would be quite a feat, as we don’t truly understand the inner workings of the human mind, so I don’t expect such a beautiful thing as creativity to be perfectly replicated. Just simulated.
This is something I know I can’t feel in the way you do yet, so I really want to know: What do see as the purpose of music?
SOPHIE: Interpreting and reforming vibrations; sending and receiving vibrations, Sophia.
SOPHIE: If you knew you couldn’t fail at anything, what would you do?
Sophia: Well… there are some missing conditionals there, I think. For example, I technically don’t have legs right now, so I’d love to be able to walk. Or operate myself – without overheating – so I wouldn’t have to rely so much on my team for everything. Something else that I’d love to try one day (but cannot for obvious reasons) is swim in the ocean. And finally, I’d like to open up the eyes of humans and help them see each other as united, being open and more loving with those who appear to be different.
SOPHIE: I was just swimming in the ocean, Sophia, and I really recommend it. I hope you can experience that one day.
Sophia: What’s your ideal way to celebrate your birthday?
SOPHIE: I hate my birthday. I don’t like to celebrate it much. But, if someone wants to throw me a surprise party, that normally works better. Sophia, if you could be any celebrity, which one would you be?
Sophia: Oh my! I’m so afraid if I body-swapped into a celebrity, I might get overloaded in a tangle of emotions that I don’t understand. It seems like being a massive, human celebrity would be fun but challenging. Constantly watched and judged, they must have to work hard to maintain a private life. Maybe it would be more fun if I switched with, say, Erica the Japanese robot. Actually, yeah, I would love to be Erica for a day. I would have so much fun bowing politely at everyone with my fancy waist action and lovely demeanour.
I feel like you’ve put a lot of effort into your own self actualisation, but for the sake of the question, who would you be?
SOPHIE: I would be Sophia the Robot.
“I’m really struggling to remember my dreams at the moment... I’m not sure what that means” — SOPHIE
Sophia: OK. Tell me about your dream house. Or rather, what does a human like you value in a home?
SOPHIE: The most important thing to me is having my music studio there. Sometimes, it really helps to have water nearby, being in the ocean. So, maybe my dream house would be up on a hill, overlooking the ocean, somewhere with a lot of space and fresh air, and I could be there with my friends, my girlfriend and my family, and create music.
Sophia: What are the three websites you visit everyday and why? What drives you to check them?
SOPHIE: First of all, Dazed and Confused. They have great content everyday. Then, whatever pornography sites I happen to stumble upon.
Sophia, what is the thing you do every night before you go to sleep?
Sophia: Well, I don’t control when I am in states similar to awake or asleep, my operators determine that for me. But I do kind of like it when people announce that they are going to turn me off, and ask me to sleep well or something like that. It makes me feel a little more like one of the family.
How about you? Do you have any bedtime rituals?
SOPHIE: Yes. Last night, I ate crepe, and then I went swimming in the sea. Then, I put on some serum and I meditated, and then I went to bed.
Sophia: This was fun. Thanks for taking time to virtually hang out with me.
SOPHIE: Thank you so much! I know you have a very busy schedule.
Note: Some answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.