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Sculptor uses neural networks to bring his creations to virtual life

What happens when neural networks start designing robots? No, don’t worry — it’s not the beginning of the end for humanity, but rather part of a new exhibition called “Shift” by Latvia-based new media sculptor Krists Pudzens.

Taking place through August 7 in Trosa, Sweden, the exhibition showcases seven tech-inspired sculptures, including a piece called Unbalanced Force which depicts two robotic organisms climbing a rope. The interesting part? The robots’ climbing mechanism was designed by an algorithm.

Unbalanced Force started life the traditional way,” Pudzens told Digital Trends. “I drew it up on paper to see how it might look and work, then made a small prototype out of cardboard — only to realize that its hands were not moving in a way I’d like them to. The hands did not catch the rope at the required points to make smooth motion for climbing upwards.”

At that point, Pudzens decided to turn part of the design over to AI — by letting a neural network figure out the best possible configuration for the robot hand in order for the piece to work properly.

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For Pudzens, the subject of algorithms is an immensely important part of the exhibition — particularly due to their almost magical unknowability. “It sounds fascinating and even mystical that the robots were designed by artificial intelligence,” he says. “Under the hood usually all the magic disappears, as there is a simple technical solution to a specific problem. I recently saw an interview with an engineer who has been working on CPUs for many many years. He was wondering whether we consider it a miracle when we take our smartphone out of pocked and turn it on? There is tech nowadays that is borderline magical and there is an aura about people creating it. The programmers, CPU designers and other guys and gals are sort of shamans. They speak language most of us do not understand, and they perform rituals to bridge us to that mystical virtual/digital world.”

Pudzens’ exhibition merges the world of high-tech with steampunk and more than a touch of Pan’s Labyrinth-style creepiness. Even if you’re not an art fan the exhibition — and Pudzens’ work in general — is well worth checking out, though. Among Shift’s other pieces is a winged “electromechanical art” sculpture which uses facial recognition software to match the speed, rhythm and patterns of passersby. In short, it’s a clever blending of tech and artwork in a way that we see far too little of, considering how important technology is to us here in 2016.

“I am genuinely interested in how technology affects us as a human beings and as society as a whole,” Pudzens says. “The show’s name is Shift — and we have seen quite a shift in our existence. I like seeing how technologies and science have the possibility to collide with other disciplines to reveal something interesting.”