Amazing AI-powered robotic potter designs and molds clay pots autonomously

There are no shortage of studies suggesting that many forms of human employment as we know them today are likely to be wiped out by the currently-happening AI revolution. One thing many experts agree on, however, is that the jobs that will survive are those which rely on creativity and artisanal skill — since these are things machines are not able to satisfactorily replicate.

But don’t tell that to Central Saint Martins student Charlotte Nordmoen. As part of a project called humanMADE, Nordmoen has created a prototype robot capable of generating its own examples of pottery — thanks to a machine learning algorithm and a somewhat creepy “human finger” made out of silicone.

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“I have adapted an industrial robot arm to throw pots,” Nordmoen tells Digital Trends. “In the process I have developed a program that designs pots autonomously and a program that interprets the designs and translates them to tool paths for the robot to follow. The goal is to create pottery that has similar qualities to that made by hand.”

Nordmoen’s algorithm accumulates images of vases online and then distills their outlines into basic shapes, which she calls the “DNA of vases.” These features are then re-combined in a way that generates fresh designs. While the robot is not (yet) able to iteratively improve on these designs, it’s a timely reminder that even human-centric skills like this are only a smart algorithm away from automation.

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“Craft has since the industrial revolution been seen as an alternative to industrialization and machines,” Nordmoen continues. “I think technological innovation today is driven primarily by an economic incentive, so it would be highly unlikely to see this kind of innovation in the near future at least. My aim is to get people to think ‘what if…?’; would the ideas we have of craft lessen if a machine could do the same? Does it matter what a machine can or cannot do if the (craft) work itself gives us pleasure?”

Something tells us that we’re going to be hearing a lot more of these types of questions in the years to come…

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