The London Design Festival Deserves Robo-Puppies! A Review of “Affinity in Autonomy” by Sony Design.

How Sony will try to tame AI during its Affinity In Autonomy exhibition, and why it won’t work.

The Victoria and Albert Museum welcomes Sony’s AI-inspired exhibition Affinity In Autonomy as a part of the 2019 London Design Festival. Can Sony’s exhibition be unpacked as more than just a pure capitalistic move with a good design on the surface?

Let’s look at what Affinity In Autonomy is and what it isn’t.

Translating innovation into perceptual experiences is the theme for the creation of this interactive robotic pendulum. ~ Sony

Although Affinity in Autonomy is going to take place from the 14th to 22nd of September, I can already tell you a lot about it because it already happened.

Precisely, Sony’s Affinity in Autonomy debuted this April at Spazio Zegna in Milan as a part of the annual Milan Design Week. The London Design Week exhibition is going to be pretty much the same, only less exciting.

During the Milan Design Week, the exhibition was divided into four different experiences, each with a promising name: Awakening, Autonomous, Affiliation, and Association. In London, only the second experience will be present, Autonomous.

Back during the Milan Design Week, the four experiences were as follows:

Awakening. The colorful light installation responds to visitors’ movements. Changes in saturation and brightness are enriched by different sound effects. The experience shows the “heightened awareness of senses,” as pointed out in settingmind’s review.

Trippy dance sticker by Phazed
Design 3D Gif  By Guillellano

Autonomous. A round structure imitating a pendulum in “an orb-like cage,” as dezeen puts it. It swings based on an AI-system responsible for detecting the presence of people in the room. The pendulum casts light on the visitor if close enough. 

Am I Hallucinating Emma Stone GIF by Zombieland

Affiliation. Visitors can play around with smart robots. The room is full of spheres of different sizes which react differently to people’s presence and movements, as well as to each other. Their behavior shows off their personality. Visitors can also interact with Sony AIBO dogs which act differently based on how they are treated.

Association. Visitors are invited to give feedback using, as dezeen describes it, a “robotic plinths that would approach them proffering a screen and smartpen.”

But London will miss Affinity in Autonomy as a sequence of experiences.

Affinity in Autonomy makes sense as an adaptation of an interactive art exhibition. It contains a message for the visitors, and it imitates an art exhibition format to gain popularity and seems less creepy.

Trippy weed sticker by Phazed

The arty thing in it is what Sony seemed to aim for: making visitors leave their comfort zone to meet the issue of fusion between AI and humans but in a tamed and sweet version.

Affinity in Autonomy is not disturbing, but it neither is exorbitantly unspontaneous. It feels like an interactive museum show on an uneasy topic that’s witty hidden under the layer of playfulness.

Design Render GIF by Mathew Lucas

What it does is to make the visitors develop an emotional (and positive) relation with the AI objects, mainly through the simple idea of an exhibition “coming to life” with a pleasant aesthetics as an extra.

 

Affinity in Autonomy shows the evolving relationship between humans and technology, a glimpse into what the future of AI x Robotics could look like – exploring robotic intelligence and emotion.
~
 said Yutaka Hasegawa, the head of Sony’s creative center.

Did Sony believe that the Milan DesignWeek would get more media coverage and so it was worth more effort? Or did Sony come to the conclusion that just one element is enough to reach their goal?…

Surely, Affinity in Autonomy is a coherent project with its four stages. Showcasing just one out of four elements during the London Design Week is a miss-hit decision. 

…but, above all, London will miss the puppies.

Dog GIF. Found on GIPHY.

AIBO was introduced in 1999. This Robodog made its big comeback in 2017, equipped with AI allowing it to learn tricks, or, for example, to “run to its owner when called” or even “develop a bond with its owner through facial and voice recognition.” 

Sony added AIBO to make it easier for visitors to put their heads around AI. Not only the metal imitation of a puppy is cute, but also, during Affinity in Autonomy, a colorful podium was connected to AIBO to make its emotions easier to notice and understand.

Yet another step of creating an immersive experience to connect people to technology through the language of color. 

Sony’s design-week mission is to remind visitors of the positive emotional possibilities of working with AI. (…) Affinity in Autonomy project finds a literally lighter way to showcase this relationship.

Affinity in Autonomy as a whole penetrates our idea of AI, but it does so gently. And it’s cute.

15029601582_a5005e0161_b
“AIBO Leaflet” by Dick Thomas Johnson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

As Sony put it in its press release,

The exhibition exemplifies the Sony approach of (…) “Do what has never been done before

Sony has invested a lot in the consistent development of AI and ethics. It was the very first Japanese company which joined “Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society,” and even established its own “The Sony Group AI Ethics Guidelines”. Bringing the AI utopia to the masses seems honorable, but also too. 

Sony used the newest technology to immerse visitors into their vision of AI. It’s cool, but it is also an awaking for the art world.

Design Shot GIF by sahlooter

Sony, a significant player on the market of new technologies, projects its idea of how to fuse a human with artificial. But there are other companies that might follow Sony’s steps and invest in the semi-art world to add an aura to their products, to add life to AI-object.

Art has to be immersive in its critique of the present, but, especially, the future, to keep the pace. 

What do you think? Is Affinity in Autonomy a step towards normalizing the intersection of what’s artificial and human? Is it art, design, or propaganda? #share your thoughts in the comments

 

 

Featured Image is a shot from the promotional video from Presscenter.sony 

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