Review: Sensible Data / Mixed Emotions
All photos are from Martin Hertig’s website.
Can a machine become an artist? That is the installation, Sensible Data / Mixed Emotions (Sensible Data), wants to probe and clarify.
Sensible Data is an interactive installation consisting of three machines made by Martin Hertig, which invites a user to create a so-called passport based on a series of personal data. The passport is a white card which divides into three parts including portrait, personal info, and fingerprint initial. The first machine asks the user to take a selfie by a designated cell phone. Based on the selfie photo, it will draw a portrait of him on the passport. Then the user sends an email to a designated email address. The second one can guess and write down the user’s mood, age, gender, and beauty percentage on the card. The machine captures the user’s fingerprint by a white button and then prints it on the bottom part of the card. Finally, he gets the passport.
The appearance of Sensible Data looks like different from other works in the Alternative Reality session. It does not use any virtual reality technology.
Following the instructions, I put a white card on the first machine and take a selfie by a cell phone which is attached to it. After receiving my photo, it starts to draw a portrait of me on the card. The drawing speed is not fast like it is thinking how to draw.
A volunteer then guides me to the second machine and tells me the next step. The trigger is a blank email to a designated address. A wheel printer starts to rotate, which prints my information on the card. The machine thinks I am a happy, 25 years old male. I think, maybe in one day, that I can see a fortune teller robot.
The third machine is a fingerprint scanner, it stamps my thumb’s fingerprint on the card after I pressed the white button. The installation requires three user’s inputs one after another. All of them are visual, interactive and haptic. Interestingly, some girls are discussing their beauty percentages after the experience.
This project aims to explore the combination of data collection systems, image identification, and machine prediction. Hertig explains his love for art design. So he made this installation as an experiment about whether a machine can do artwork or not.
He prepared three brief instructions and three frames for helping the user to understand how to use the machines. The user will read the instructions at first eye. And then they find the size of the frames is suitable to put the passport in. For the drawing part, the machine runs a python script for the calculation process. After receiving the selfie, it begins to transcribe the visual information to digital information as commands to control the pen attached to the machine. For the second machine, the blank email is serving as a trigger: the software sends the selfie to an online learning algorithm that can detect a person’s beauty percentage, mood, age, and gender. Then the laser -cut wheel printer will print the information letter by letter on the passport. At last, the white button is a fingerprint scanner, so that is why the machine can duplicate the user’s fingerprint.
I find several interesting features about the installation. It guesses the user rather than just photocopying him. Like a real artist makes artwork. Even the conjecture is so embarrassing that it mistakenly said a kid was 50 years old! When looking at a portrait, people can know how old is the person in a picture. Is he angry? Can the machine do it in the same way?
The creator makes an experiment on robot artist with several different technologies and different concepts. As an experiment, it is interesting enough to get test results from users. However, add a fingerprint scanner may not be a wise choice, because it touches the user’s privacy. Some users even stop before this machine because of concerns. In all, the installation mainly provides visual information. The instruction is also easy to follow. Probably in one day, I will see an artwork made by a robot artist