A dazzling interactive sculpture powered by AWS artificial intelligence (AI) goes on display this weekend at the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building (AIB) on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Architect and artist Suchi Reddy designed the piece, titled me + you, to reflect "society's collective conscious"—a collection of people's expressed feelings about the future at any given time. The sculpture stands 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide, is powered by a series of AWS AI services, and enables visitors to create art with their voice. The technology then translates each visitor's spoken words about the future into patterns of color and light, corresponding with various words and themes, creating an ever-evolving piece of art. me + you is a site-specific sculptural installation, created for the innovative exhibition "FUTURES" at the Smithsonian's AIB, open to the public beginning November 20.
me + you allows people to contribute their thoughts and feelings to an interactive piece of artwork through the power of AI.
Reddy worked with AWS and arts curator Isolde Brielmaier to bring the underlying cloud technology into her artistic vision with the help of machine learning. The result is an interactive, AI-powered sculpture designed with thin, flexible sheets of LEDs, diffusers, and acrylic tubes, as well as paper, a nod to textiles from Reddy's home country of India. When the exhibit opens, visitors will be able to approach the sculpture and say, "My future looks …" adding their description of the future to finish the sentence. These answers are translated into patterns that flow into the sculpture's central totem, which is used to showcase trends and reflect society's feelings about the future through light. For those unable to experience me + you in person, a web-based version of the experience is also available.
"My original vision for me + you was to bring humanity to technology and create a sense of connectedness across the world, which seems more relevant now than ever after the distance we all felt during the pandemic," said Reddy. "By working with AWS, I've gained a deep appreciation of AI, and I have enjoyed exploring the possibilities it offers as a creative, artistic medium. me + you combines human creativity and computational creativity, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the public responds and can be inspired by this piece."
A team of AWS engineers collaborated closely with Reddy for two years, from concept through construction, to build the underlying AI cloud technology that powers the sculpture and its accompanying web platform. The artwork is powered by AWS AI services—such as Amazon Transcribe for voice transcription and Amazon Comprehend for word understanding. The sculpture also used a custom machine learning model developed using Amazon SageMaker.
In order to translate words into colors, engineers trained a word-embedding model off a large tome of text, teaching it to associate certain words with specific sentiments. For example, the words "exciting" or "bright" were associated with a positive sentiment. The sculpture then emits a specific pattern of light and colors, designed by Reddy, matched to these words.
"me + you allows people to contribute their thoughts and feelings to an interactive piece of artwork through the power of AI. Reddy's vision and artistry, combined with the power of the cloud, has created an awe-inspiring work of art sure to delight anyone who engages with it," said Swami Sivasubramanian, AWS's vice president of Amazon Machine Learning. "We are grateful for this opportunity to show just how beautiful and accessible technology can be, and hope this project inspires current and future generations of artists and technologists to collaborate and invent new creations."
Part of the Smithsonian's 175th anniversary celebration, FUTURES presents nearly 32,000 square feet of new, immersive site-specific art installations, interactive pieces, working experiments, inventions, speculative designs, and objects from its rich collections. After the exhibit closes in July 2022, me + you will be transported to its permanent home—a public site at Amazon's second headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, where it will be available to the general public for free.
"In the same rotunda where Thomas Edison's newly patented electric light bulb astonished the crowd at President James Garfield's inaugural ball, me + you will make its light- and color-filled debut 140 years later,' said Rachel Goslins, director of the Smithsonian's AIB. "AIB has always been a place for the Smithsonian to debut the objects and ideas that would change the world. It's fitting that we honor that moment in history, and 175 years of the Smithsonian, to create a truly innovative and unique work of art."
Beginning on Saturday, November 20, me + you can be seen in person at "FUTURES" at the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building for the next nine months. The piece is also available to interact with online.