The title of this robotic work makes a nod to IBM’s infamous chess-playing computer Deep Blue that was matched up with reigning world champion Garry Kasparov in the late 1990’s – although it does not look anything like that refrigerator-sized computing tower. Stedman’s ADB (after Deep Blue) is a modular robot for tactile intimacy, and makes its contribution to both machine intelligence and electronic art practice in the area of artificial emotional and social intelligence. Very often the physical modeling within this area involves mimicry of cute human or animal expressiveness, since the theory goes that we are hardwired to respond with interest if not caring to big eyes, babbling baby talk, etc. Stedman’s aesthetic choice is a more spare and abstract one, and ADB’s form follows from its impressive functionality. It is a smooth and supple object that can wrap itself around a hand or arm, but is also rather neutral and everyday in its appearance. Thus the “friendliness” that we might anthropomorphically project onto ADB arises from an intelligently conceived harmony of look, feel and behaviour, allowing us to remember that it is a well-designed object even while we experience an uncanny connection with it. Although fifteen years ago Kasparov himself could not accept the apparent ability of brute force computing power to creatively strategize (he accused the IBM group of cheating by using human chess players), Deep Blue changed the stakes regarding artificial intelligence. In effect it put out the call for a collective engagement with the challenge of designing human-machine contact. Stedman’s project speaks right to the heart of this task.
About the author
Nicholas Stedman develops experimental devices with cultural and aesthetic applications. These range from art projects, to tools and technologies that enable others to be creative. For several years his particular focus has been designing and building physically interactive robots. His projects have been exhibited at art festivals, science centres and on various media outlets, some highlights of which include Ars Electronica, ISEA, and Future Physical. Nicholas lives in Toronto where he is active in the media arts community, and teaches Digital Media at both York University and Ryerson University. He has a BFA from Ryerson, and a MFA from University of Buffalo.