[Human Senses] Designer/Artist Hyun Park, Why are machines that resemble humans eerie?

2021.2.24

Soft robots, a new technology, give us familiarity as a sense, and at the same time evoke negative emotions as an eerie machine. Artist Hyun Park thought these two sides are interesting, and brought them into the work. He embodies the sense of a soft robot and asks humans. Why are you uncomfortable?

Q Artist Hyun Park is interested in design using new materials and technologies.

A It often leads to work from a small curiosity. It’s a way to develop an idea when you discover a singularity while researching an area of interest. Through interest in the ‘soft robot’, which has recently been in the spotlight, in 2019, as a member of ZER01NE LAB, he also introduced <Study on Swelling Objects> using it. It is an installation work with six moving soft robots as the main piece and balloons of colorful colors around it.

Q What aspects of soft robots did you pay attention to?

A As a writer, I was interested in the inefficient elements, peculiar senses, and aesthetic phenomena of soft robots. Unlike the classic robot with a solid structure, the soft robot is made of a flexible material that is based on a mollusk and has a feature of smooth movement. It is not very powerful, performs relatively simple functions, and has some inaccuracies. On the other hand, there is a possibility that soft robots can achieve functions that were not previously possible by exerting the ability to change their shape between humans and unstructured environments. It is a new research field that is being actively researched to solve problems in the uncertain environment of rigid robots that are mainly used in everyday life, and is a new technology that remains in the early stages both academically and commercially.

Q I am curious about the sensation embodied through the work.

A In order to realize the sensations that soft robots can deliver, I printed it with 3D modeling, made a mold with a complex structure, and made a shape by casting silicon. Through the microcontroller, the white pillar-shaped machine moved smoothly, and at the same time, it was repeated so that its body grows and shrinks naturally, and the sensation, felt as the organic form was expressed as if it was swelling, was very unique. These six robots were set up, and a balloon, which we mainly perceived as an inflated object, was placed around it to further evoke such sensations.

Q There were people who reacted negatively to the work.

A It is exactly what I wanted. I was satisfied with the negative reaction because I was curious about how people accept soft robots through <Study on Swelling Objects>.Quite a number of people expressed it with words like ‘creepy, eerie, or bizarre.’ Soft robots feel familiar to us in the form of organic body, but at the same time they trigger eerie in that they are machines. In the first place, my attention was paid to these two sides. This is the reason for choosing soft robots as an object of inquiry.

Q What would be the reason of rejection?

A It’s possible to feel uncomfortable as the two thoughts conflict because they perceive natural movements as if they were living but they are not actually living things. It was because the logic taken for granted such as state, shape, and nature deviated. In other words, the sensations that soft robots give humans come to us like new sensations that did not exist before. Although softness and naturalness are familiar sensations, when grafted into a machine, they must be viewed in another dimension. In addition, humans exhibit negative behavior when they deviate within a predictable range. Imagine a soft staircase in front of you. Even if you don’t walk on it, the stairs are already bizarre. It’s natural to feel rejected.

Q Why do humans feel terrified despite their familiar senses?

A As civilization develops, it seems to be related to the fact that we are rather distant from our original experience. For example, you don’t see scenes where cows are slaughtered unless they are intentionally, but only exposed to beef, such as industrial products, laid out in plastic wrappers. Despite the fact that humans have been doing it for a long time and theoretically known, in the modern world, if the memory that has been forgotten and lived is slightly touched through some opportunity, it pops out as a feeling of revulsion. Looking at the soft robot in <Study on Swelling Objects>, I think that it may be overlapped with a part of the body cut off. Eventually, it might have been associated with death.

Q It feels like we had a glimpse of a new side of humans using the new technology.

A As mentioned earlier, I try to explore a new sense captured as an artist and designer in the current state of technology by releasing curiosity about new materials and technologies. I want to avoid descriptive work. We humans show different reactions in the same sense according to experience, culture or environment. Another factor is that each individual has different criteria and conditions for answering ‘why’. It can be judged that the unique senses and aesthetic phenomena of soft robots touched the original senses of humans, and various humanities could be expressed.

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