O primeiro enxame de robots, 2003

Criados em 2003, e chamados ArtSbot (de Art Swarm Robots) estes pequenos robots baseiam a sua ação no chamado “algoritmo de formigas”, o qual simula o comportamento destes pequenos insetos. Cada robot reage aos outros, ao ambiente e à cor. Deste modo geram desenhos e pinturas originais.

Texto de apoio

Upgrade do ArtSbot (a pala serve para proteger os sensores da luz exterior)
020404, 2004, tinta sobre tela, 190 x 160 cm. Coleção Fondation Guy and Myriam Ullens.

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Um texto sobre o processo de criação destes robots.

Stigmergy Art

By the end of last century, I came across the concept of stigmergy. It was demonstrated by a new kind of bio-inspired algorithm created by Marco Dorigo in the early nineties, coined ACO (Ant Colony Optimization) also known as ant-algorithm. The algorithm simulates the behaviour of ants and termites and their particular form of indirect communication among individuals as described by Pierre-Paul Grassé, in studies that he carried out on social insects.
When searching for food ants wander randomly, but upon finding it return to the colony while laying down a pheromone trail. If other ants come across such chemical path, they tend to halt the random wandering, and instead follow the trail reinforcing it. When the food is consumed ants stop adding pheromone and the trail vanishes.
Termites, which build remarkable clay constructions, are another example.
At the start, the insects randomly deposit little balls of clay impregnated with pheromone. The formation of a pile stimulates other termites to add more clay, and the higher the piles, the greater the stimulus. Small mounds are abandoned. Some columns grow and come together until they touch, form¬ing arches. The result is an intricate and very solid structure.
Stigmergy (from stigma/sign and ergon/action) designates an indirect communication mechanism based on signals left in the environment by one agent which trigger responses among other agents. It means that the coordination of tasks does not depend directly on the interactions between agents, but on the environment itself. The agent does not direct his work, but is guided by it.

Dorigo’s first algorithm was apparently quite simple but it showed how from a chaotic random start a not predetermined order appears (Fig.1). Being an artist, I saw the emergence of self-organized drawings.
Following several experiments, in 2001 I switched from computer to robotics. Robots live in the real world, have sensors to detect obstacles and colour, and behave as a true swarm.
I changed pheromone for colour. The art robots are stimulated by colour in the same way that ants are stimulate by pheromone. If they come across, they reinforce it.
Stimulus is a very important component in the stigmergy mechanism. Being machines dedicated to pictorial creations my robots are “excited” by colour.

Artsbot (Art Swarm Robots), produced in 2003 (Fig.2), demonstrate that when equipped with a set of simple rules based on stigmergy a swarm of robots can generate unique compositions independent from the human that starts the process. These antlike machines interact indirectly based on the colour traces that each one makes. The result of their actions is always unpredictable. Additionally, if randomness is an essential component of the process the resulting artwork cannot be described as random as organized patterns emerge from a fuzzy background. Actually, cluster formation is a demonstration that the process is not random (Fig. 3).

My art robots are performers that follow a choreography determined by stigmergy (Fig. 4). They walk around in a haphazard mode but when detect “their” colour, since each robot is stimulated by a specific colour, tend to reinforce it. And I say tend because the process is not 0 or 1. The algorithm uses tendencies rather than orders to simulate biological behaviour.

In artistic terms it is now possible to create art works without direct human intervention. The process is not random nor predetermined, but self-organized. Drawings that make itself.
These art robots make art as ants make trails or termites makes clay cathedrals.
Considering the evolution of modern and contemporary art, which went from figurative to abstract, manufacture to ready-made, object to process, a self-organized form of art opens a new field of artistic exploration that objectively takes the human out of the loop. Hence, I coined it nonhuman art.
This claim may be controversial in the context of mainstream art world which is essentially anthropocentric. But, actually, it is inscribed in the global evolution of robotics and artificial intelligence towards a greater autonomy of machines. Artificial intelligence will evolve to be more and more creative and less and less human dependent. Art announces what is about to come.