LASER Talk: Robots Made From Frog Tissue, Immersive Art, and “Can I Chase an AI in the Metaverse?” »
On the evening of January 19, a cognitive scientist Pietro Scaruffi hosted Stanford’s monthly Leonardo Art Science Evening (LASER) conference, entitled “Evolutionary Robotics, Blockchain Art, Metaverse”. Scaruffi was a visiting scholar at Stanford from 1995 to 1996 and has led LASERs at the University of San Francisco and Stanford University since 2008. This most recent LASER featured lectures by the University’s computer science professor from Vermont. Josh BongardBrooklyn-based “immersion artist” Jessica Angel and Stanford Law School Codex Fellow Eran Kahana. The virtual event, hosted on Zoom, attracted more than 100 attendees.
Bongard began his lecture by discussing his research interest in robotics as a means of maximizing human potential. Offering an allegory of machine development, Bongard explained how the biological concepts of natural selection and evolution led to the development of various organisms, each functioning as a highly efficient machine for a specialized task.
“There is someone who has built adaptive machines, and she has built billions and billions of them,” Bongard explained. “She has been building them for 3.5 billion years. She is, of course, Mother Nature.
Bongard then described his efforts to refine his own “evolutionary” or “genetic” algorithm. In short, a computer generates different possible sets of instructions to respond to a given task, and over time this algorithm is trained to optimize its solution to accomplish the task, re-evaluating its code throughout the process. Bongard’s team of programmers create tasks while maintaining a set of environmental constraints within the metaverse, and machines grow in response to these environmental changes.
According to Bongard, this is not the most effective method, but the one that can lead to unexpected discoveries: “[o]One of the advantages of an evolutionary algorithm is not necessarily that it optimizes behavior. This produces quite well behavior, and also produces a diversity of behaviors, a diverse set of solutions to consider. In other words, Bongard’s algorithm searches for all possible combinations of the “robotic neuron,” or the ultimate set of instructions best suited to accomplish a task.
Bongard’s research is done through a physical engine to allow the “virtual brain” of the algorithm to develop before it integrates it into the mechatronic body capable of actually performing tasks. This “sim-to-real” transfer increases the efficiency of the model. In one of his experiments, Bongard simulated the plates of frog skin and heart tissue using the algorithm, creating a structure that can move between 2 points.
Bongard and Tufts University Living Lab member Mike Levin recently developed frog cells to create a “biobot”, affectionately called “xenobot” after the species of frog Xenopus laevis. This biobot, created from frog skin and heart tissue and the evolutionary algorithm, is capable of movement and represents a major step in the future of nanotechnology.
“The hope is that one day we can build human resources [biobots] from the patient’s own cells,” Bongard said. He believes these tiny biobots will be able to perform delicate medical operations inside a patient’s body in the future.
Jessica Angel is a Colombian-born, Brooklyn-based artist and art pioneer who uses Blockchain – a data storage structure that keeps track of its history, often used in online financial transactions – to facilitate immersion physical in a site-specific installation. She is interested in how data shapes reality, citing post-constructionist philosopher Michel Foucault as an influence in her artistic practice.
Angel co-created his first immersive piece, “Inside the Computing Machine” (2008) with sound designer Gilberto Castillo using only screen-printed wallpaper. She continued to collaborate with Castillo on “Facing the Hyperstructure” (2017), this time creating immersive art by hand.
Speaking about her relationship with immersive art, Angel explained how she perceives the world as a dichotomy: “we are inside the space, we can touch it, I call it ‘hard-edge’. But there is another type of space, the dynamic space that inhabits the hard-edge space. Connecting this divide between the tangible world and the immaterial reality of software is what drives his practice.
By creating immersive spaces and murals that occupy site-specific memory, Angel hopes to bridge the gap between the analog and the mechanisms behind the screen. Inspired by Douglas Hofstadter, the American physics researcher known for analogy in communication, Angel uses immersive art installations to explore how we, as physical beings, interact with the mechanisms behind the screen.
Angel’s current exhibition, “Voxel Bridge”, was created as part of the ongoing Vancouver Biennalea site-specific installation under Vancouver’s Cambie Bridge that tells the story of Kusama blockchain network. When scanning a QR code, virtual projections signal the transition from the purely physical world to that of the Kusama network, which offers contextual information via augmented reality (AR) on the historical development of blockchains for curious audiences. Angel has created an interactive screen to help people see how blockchains can interact with their lives on the physical and digital planes.
Angel attributed his decision not to work entirely digitally to his background in traditional painting and drawing. “When you’re interested in going into the metaverse and diving into digital spaces,” Angel said, “keeping at least one foot in the physical is absolutely important.”
Angel is also cautious about her use of technology as an artist. “I think the artists are a bit related [to] technology,” Angel explained. “Technology is so exciting that it becomes the only thing to explore.”
Indeed, technology and exploration continue to go hand in hand in the modern world. From his earliest descriptions in the acclaimed author neal stephensonfrom the 1992 novel “Snow Crash”, to its more recent interpretations through avatar-centric play”second life” and the Big Four’s controversial rebranding technology company Meta, the metaverse has come a long way. In the third and final part of the talk, Stanford Law School CodeX Fellow Eran Kahana shed light on the pressing legal considerations of “smarter” technology that remain largely unaddressed.
Kahana thinks we need to change the way we think about AI in order to mitigate the legal ramifications of metaverse crimes. Much like a corporation that can sue and be sued, AI can be considered an agent under law – capable of conducting business transactions, performing contracts, monitoring contract performance, take legal action, observe the rules and evaluate the laws.
Naturally, then, the question arises as to why we as humans give so much power to AI. According to Kahana, we believe AI has a fiduciary duty, and therefore continually codes for “AI that will be loyal to us as the end user.”
Kahana pointed out that going forward, legal processes around the Metaverse will need to be in place before the Metaverse can deliver on its promise.
“The infrastructure has to be such that there’s a decision on what it is,” Kahana said. “What that would mean is how did the courts play a role in this? Do we have enough mechanisms like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that protect Internet-related content? »
January’s LASER Conference finally reflected on what it means to exist in a world where the planes of art, design, and technology intersect in meaningful ways. This prompted attendees to ask how innovations happen, how they will impact us, and how to live with these unprecedented technological advancements. More importantly, conversations like these get us thinking about what we want our future to look like and what we want to do about it.