Monday, November 28, 2011

Bio-Art: MEART the semi-living artist.

Ask any (successful) artist and they will tell you that art is a lot harder than it looks. It takes skill, practice, and creativity. In general, art is seen as something that only higher-level beings can perform... could a robot potentially make art?

According to the three creators of MEART, sure, why not? The MEART project, created by two teams of scientists in Georgia and Australia, endeavors to answer some of the most pressing questions surrounding the production of art and creativity. Names to know include Douglas J. Bakkum1, Philip M. Gamblen2, Guy Ben-Ary2, Zenas C. Chao1 and Steve M. Potter1,* all of whom are either part of the Georgia Institute of Technology or SymbioticA, the School of Biology in Perth, Australia. They have, together, made the first ever robot designed to draw. The result looks like the art that elephants make, but it's still art!

MEART's robotic body is linked to a culture of rat neurons on a MEA (multi-electrode array) in Atlanta Georgia. The electrical signals are transported around the world, including Australia, the U.S., Russia, and China, and communicated in real-time via the internet. People have been watching rat-controlled robotic hands playing with markers for the last five years.

Technically, MEART is a working cyborg. That in itself is controversial. People who hate the idea of transhumanism will loathe projects like MEART, which use sophisticated technology to accurately replicate natural thoughts and movements. The MEART masters prefer to use the term 'hybrot' to avoid the extant connotation, but it still treads Uncanny waters.

More importantly, however, MEART is a sign of the coming robot apocalypse. If semi-artificial intelligence can be creative, who knows what its limits might be? Imagine if there were human brain cells instead of rat neurons in that little petri dish. This technology has amazing potential for anyone in need of a limb replacement. Hell, even that crappy "CyTran" idea would be doable if they rethought a little and used this tech instead of Lovecraftian brain transplants. Prepare your bladder for imminent release.

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