The Helpless Robot - Artist's Statement

In building The Helpless Robot, I've attempted to create an artificial personality. It is the most literal in a long line of works where I've tried to give blatantly electro-mechanical systems a "life of their own". The intent behind all this is to transcend my own intention, to surprise myself. I have little interest in artistic creation which expresses things about me or the world that I had previously known. I have turned to computers for this work because they give me ample possibility for eluding my own contrivance. They can do this first of all because they are capable of compounding the business of cause and effect past prediction, and secondly because they can employ sensors enabling them to plug in to the chaotic qualities of their environment.

Creating an artificial personality is a daunting task. No doubt it is an unfinishable task, because one can never achieve anything that is one millionth as complex and surprising as a living human being. I have taken this on simply as an act of wonder and homage, in the same way that artists have always studied and recorded their fascinations. I started out asking myself can a machine which is fundamentally a product of the intellect also model emotions? And how does one even begin to build a conceptual emotional framework? Are there primary emotions, like primary colours, from which all other emotions evolve?

The Helpless Robot
represents my first tentative response to this challenge. It is an interactive work that unlike most robots is essentially passive. It rotates on a large industrial "lazy susan", and it can do so only by enlisting the help of human beings, using its electronic voice. It has a repertoire of 256 phrases, and exactly which phrase it selects from second to second depends upon its present and past experience of boredom, frustration, arrogance, and overstimulation. There is almost nothing random in its behavior. What makes the work unpredictable derives entirely from the jostling between its internal program and the uncertain behavior of humans. The full range of its responses are best experienced by treating it in a variety of ways, alternatively ignoring and satisfying its demands.