Robot Entertains Cats in Newly Launched Art-Tech Installation

New installation from provocative UK artist group, Blast Theory, asks if AI can make us – and our pets – truly happy

Never-before seen footage of cats interacting with an AI-powered robot arm has been unveiled this week as part of a groundbreaking new project.

Blast Theory’s art installation Cat Royale, which launched on March 22, sees three cats – Clover, Pumpkin and Ghostbuster – go into a specially-built feline ‘utopia’ at the Blast Theory studio for six hours a day over the 12-day project, where they have space to relax, play and explore.

During their daily visit to the utopia, the cats are supervised by a Cat Welfare Officer, and entertained by a robotic arm. At the centre of the installation is a robotic arm, which uses AI to learn what games and snacks the cats like. The robotic arm offers treats, throws a ball, dangles a feather, jingles a bell, or offers a massage depending on how the cats interact with it.

And a computer vision system measures the happiness of the cats as they play with the robot arm, in an attempt to learn how to make them happier. The system then uses this learning to suggest new activities for the robotic arm to try.

Eight cameras capture the cats’ every movement. Audiences across the world can catch up with daily highlights from inside Cat Royale, released at 8pm GMT every day throughout the project on the Blast Theory website.

In episode 1, the cats can be seen responding enthusiastically to the robot arm’s offer of treats, while the narrator poses the unsettling question, “Is it best if the AI learns that they love snacks, and offers more and more of them?”

Cat Royale is also being streamed daily to the World Science Festival in Brisbane, Australia between 22 March to 2 April, before touring to Science Gallery London and Wales Millennium Centre in the UK later this year.

This is the latest project from Blast Theory artists Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj, who are renowned for creating artwork that puts the public at the centre of unusual and sometimes unsettling experiences, to create new perspectives and open up the possibility of change.

Known for controversial projects such as Kidnap (1998) and Can You See Me Now? (2003), Blast Theory hope that Cat Royale will open up conversations around how AI can support humans and pets alike.

Lead artist Matt Adams from Blast Theory explained: “Large tech companies such as Meta and Tesla claim to be improving human happiness through technology. As AI becomes more and more widespread, it’s important to explore what risks are growing as a result. Cat Royale shows AI in action as it learns: I hope the public will make their own decision about whether the cats are getting happier.”

Bringing together artists, researchers and computer scientists from the University of Nottingham, Kings’ College London and the Open University, Cat Royale aims to identify the potential positive influence that automated systems and AI could have in the care of companion animals, as well as understand the limitations and challenges of these technologies in care and welfare settings for humans.

Matt continued: . “Cat Royale is a playful way to explore these questions and invite a wider group of people into the discussion about what AI is and where it should be going.”

Cat Royale has been developed in collaboration with the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham and funded by UKRI via the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Hub, co-commissioned by Queensland Museum for World Science Festival Brisbane and Science Gallery London.

The Animal Welfare and Ethics Review Body at the University of Nottingham and animal behaviourists from the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) are consulting with Blast Theory throughout the project to ensure the safety, wellbeing and care of Pumpkin, Clover and Ghostbuster.

Tune in to the Blast Theory website at 8pm GMT every day to keep up to date with Clover, Pumpkin and Ghostbuster’s interactions with the robot arm. If you missed Day 1 in the Cat Royale utopia, check out the update here.

Blast Theory make interactive art to explore social and political questions. The group’s work places the public at the centre of unusual and sometimes unsettling experiences, to create new perspectives and open up the possibility of change.

Led by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj, the group draw on popular culture and new technologies to make performances, games, films, apps and installations.

Blast Theory have shown work at the Venice Biennale, Tribeca Film Festival, ICC in Tokyo, Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin, the Barbican and Tate Britain. Commissioners include Channel 4, Sundance Film Festival and the Royal Opera House.

The artists’ work closely with researchers and scientists and have collaborated with the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham since 1997, co-authoring over 45 research papers.

The artists teach and lecture internationally including at the Sorbonne, Stanford University, and the Royal College of Art. They curated the Screen series for Live Culture at Tate Modern.

Blast Theory have been nominated for four BAFTAs and won the Golden Nica at Prix Ars Electronica and the Nam June Paik Art Center Award.

Founded in 1991, Blast Theory are based in Brighton in the UK.

About the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Hub

Cat Royale is made possible by the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Hub and we are collaborating closely with the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham. Blast Theory are Cultural Ambassadors for the TAS Hub.

The TAS Hub assembles a team from the Universities of Southampton, Nottingham and King’s College London. The Hub sits at the centre of the £33m Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Programme, funded by the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund.

The role of the TAS Hub is to enable the development of socially beneficial autonomous systems that are both trustworthy in principle and trusted in practice by individuals, society and government.

The TAS Hub invites researchers, industry, NGOs and the public to engage and contribute use-cases and datasets or collaborate on research projects, tech transfer, and training activities.

About Curiocity Brisbane

Presented by Queensland Museum Network, World Science Festival Brisbane 2023 boldly journeys into the new frontiers of science to ask, and answer some of the biggest questions facing mankind. Curiocity Brisbane returns as a key pillar of the festival, with a dynamic offering of public art that explores the connectedness of art, science and tech.

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