Robot dogs have unnerved and angered the public. So why is this artist teaching them to paint?

  • November 26, 2023
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Agnieszka Pilat calls herself a ‘propaganda artist’ for robots. But when those machines are sold to governments, police and military, what’s the line between art and an ad?

The artist is completely focused, a black oil crayon in her hand as she repeatedly draws a small circle on a vibrant teal canvas. She is unbothered by the three people closely observing her every movement, and doesn’t seem to register my entrance into this bright white room inside the National Gallery of Victoria.

The artist is a robot; more specifically, Basia is a 30kg “Spot” robot dog designed by Boston Dynamics. You’ve likely seen videos of these dogs opening doors, climbing stairs and decorating Christmas trees, while performing eerily fluid actions that cause people to write comments like, “Can’t wait to have a pack of these chase me through a post-apocalyptic urban hellscape!” The robots are designed to perform tasks that are dangerous for humans: they tend to be bought by mining and construction corporations, as well as police and the military. You may have also seen them enforcing social distancing in Singapore, delivering food to hostages during a home invasion in Queens, dancing in a baseball stadium in Japan, or even in an episode of The Book of Boba Fett. Now you can watch them paint.

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