University festival brings artificial intelligence to life

The Orchestre National de Jazz. Image courtesy of Sylvain Gripoix
The Orchestre National de Jazz. Image courtesy of Sylvain Gripoix

An AI-powered robot pet, AI-inspired stand-up comedy, and live music with AI will be amongst the futuristic exhibits and performances at the University of Southampton’s first AI Arts Festival.

The one-day public event on Sunday 2 June in Winchester, at the Theatre Royal Winchester and The Arc, will explore and celebrate where and how artificial intelligence meets the arts.

The festival is split into day and evening sessions. During the day, there will be demonstrations, installations, music, discussions and stand-up comedy.

Ink Gao, postgraduate researcher in Design at the university’s Winchester School of Art, is taking part with her AI robotic pet, GUA. Inspired by the actions and behaviours of reptiles and birds, GUA can sense light, touch, movement and sound, and she ’thinks’ and acts independently.

"I’d describe her personality as active, inquisitive, and sometimes aggressive," said Ink, who studied biology as an undergraduate and is combining this experience with design and engineering. "My motivation for designing and building GUA is the potential to replicate real life pets. Most people love to interact with animals, but not everyone can keep a pet. In the future, I think people will have robotic pets like GUA as companions - they don’t replace the real thing, but are a good substitute."

The evening event will feature a performance by France’s Orchestre National de Jazz with musical machine collaborators designed at France’s renowned national institute for computer-music research, IRCAM. There will also be a discussion on AI and the arts with Dame Wendy Hall , Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, BBC technology writer Bill Thompson and guests including some of the artists.

Stand-up comedy by Ted Hill and Alex Farrow , and a live music and visual installation by Dr Pablo Galaz, Lecturer in Composition and Analysis, complete the evening line-up. Dr Galaz’s ’Human-like’ will feature four musicians, with one using facial gestures and hand movements to trigger sounds from computers and electronic devices.

"It’s as if the machine is trying to understand the human body," said Dr Galaz. "The audience will be surrounded by the performers and visual projections, and it will be like being inside the machine."

Professor Thomas Irvine , the festival’s co-artistic director and Head of Music at the University of Southampton, said: "I’m so pleased that this exciting new festival has come together like it has. My co-directors Les Carr, Professor of Web Science, and Professor Larry Lynch, Head of Winchester School of Art, and I are thrilled that we’ve been able to put together a programme that brings together artists, writers, musicians and even comedians to explore what AI means for artistic expression. There are lots of questions to ask about this technology, but also lots about our humanity it can already show us. It’s a special time."

The festival is organised by the university’s Web Science Institute and Winchester School of Art. Visit the AI Arts Festival website for the full programme and to reserve tickets.