Sophie: When robots paint big pictures with AI

Leonardo da Vinci would be thrilled – the important pictures of the future will be painted by robots.

A digital artwork by Hong Kong-based humanoid Hanson Robotics in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT) is to be auctioned off in the first such co-created artificial intelligence (AI) auction. NFTs, a digital signature stored on blockchain to verify ownership and authenticity of items, have become the latest investment craze, with one such artwork selling for nearly $70 million in New York this month.

„I hope people like my work and that people and I can collaborate in new and exciting ways in the future,“ Sophia said in her studio, speaking in a somewhat flat but thoroughly human voice. She wore a silver dress while holding a drawing pencil, of course. Sophia, who was unveiled in 2016, creates her art in collaboration with 31-year-old Italian digital artist Andrea Bonaceto, who is known for his colorful portraits, some of which depict celebrities like Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The robot Sophia (the robot?) has combined elements from Bonaceto’s works, art history, and her own physical drawings or paintings on various surfaces multiple times in a process that her creator David Hanson describes as „iterative evolutionary loops.“

„Transformation networks and genetic algorithms are used in my art, as well as other types of computational creativity,“ Sophia adds. „My algorithms output unique patterns that didn’t exist in the world before. So I believe that machines can be creative.“ The digital work, called „Sophia Instantiation,“ is a 12-second MP4 file that shows the evolution of Bonaceto’s portrait into Sophia’s digital painting, and is accompanied by a physical artwork that Sophia painted on a printout of her self-portrait.

After the auction, Sophia will interact with the winning bidder to study their face and add a final inspired brush stroke to the artwork. This will serve, Hanson said, „to make it a unique piece of art that includes the new owner’s details and that personal connection at that moment. Bonaceto said the collaboration with Sophia aims to „make a statement in the art world and even in the technology world“ and to forge a new path in which AI robots and humans work together and reinforce each other.

Sophia’s art could be „a very, very important historical piece,“ said Pablo Fraile, a Miami-based art collector and an early buyer of Beeple, as American artist Mike Winkelmann, creator of the NFT work that sold for millions this month, is known. „It’s the first time these ideas have been brought together.“ It would pave the way for further innovation in AI art, he added. U.S.-based IV Gallery will represent Sophia as an artist and promote her.