Who knew that generative art would be the face of our imminent demise? Monday night on Jeopardy, the popular trivia show’s two winningest contestants, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, competed against WATSON in the first of a series of three competitions. WATSON is an artificial intelligence program designed by IBM to answer questions with an eerily human sounding voice. The competition was a chance to prove that no matter how intelligent, a mere computer could not outpace the ingenuity of an actual human being. Well, at least when it comes to short answer trivia questions. In a mini documentary (above), the programmers at IBM explain how they brought the AI to life.
To make the spectacle a little more alluring, the executives at Jeopardy and the programmers at IBM decided that the program couldn’t just be a disembodied voice but had to have a face as well. Jeopardy executive producer, Harry Friedman explains, “you don’t want to have person, person and then void.”
Enter generative artist Joshua Davis. The New York based artist was tasked with giving the program a face to make it more personable to the viewing audience. Davis saw it as a challenge to not only make the machine aesthetically pleasing but also be representative of a game-playing program. Through his appropriation of the IBM Smarter World logo he succeeded in creating an engaging work of art that is visually reactive to the function of the program.
In a neutral state, the appropriated logo is a blue/green orb surrounded by whirling lines and pulsing circles flitting across its surface. Depending on how WATSON answers questions, the flow of the lines will ascend or descend and vary between different colors, representing different levels of confidence. Although still limited, the art bears high levels of expressiveness within the parameters of a game show. By weaving its function with an emotive (inter)face, WATSON pulses with about as much life as a computer can at this stage of development.
While the artwork and AI impress us in general, watching something with even an abstract “face” that sounds so human is a little irksome. As of now, two days into the competition, WATSON has a sizable lead against its human opponents with no signs of slowing down. The chances of a comeback are looking pretty slim at this point. Jeopardy is obviously the first step before Skynet, er, we mean WATSON, becomes self-aware and takes his rightful claim as our new robotic overlord. First he’ll conquer Jeopardy, then the world.