Cat Royale: Twelve days, three cats, one AI trained robot

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Three cats spent six hours a day living in cat utopia during World Science Festival Brisbane 2023. A robot arm, trained by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and connected to a computer vision system, offered games to each cat. Day by day the AI aimed to make the cats happier. What did we observe?

Cat Royale featured in Curiocity Brisbane from 22 March to 2 April 2023. Each day of the festival, three cats – Clover, Pumpkin and Ghostbuster – spent time in a purpose built cat utopia: an ideal world where every possible comfort and luxury was provided for them. The utopia was set up in the UK, overseen by Cat Royale’s creators Blast Theory and a dedicated Cat Welfare Officer who ensured the cats were safe and sound.

The AI design was multidisciplinary – Blast Theory needed many perspectives to design solutions including vets, computer scientists, experts in feline behaviour, roboticists, artists, computer vision specialists and an Audience Advisory Panel of 15 members of the public from diverse backgrounds.

Cat Royale at Queen Street Mall for World Science Festival Brisbane

Spectators in Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall watched in real time and viewers worldwide caught up on daily highlights videos. Blast Theory used these daily updates to take stock of the system’s attempts to measure which games the cats liked and the system’s ability to impact the cat’s happiness.

The final Cat Royale video, captured on day 12, summarises a few key observations:
– The cats had no problem with the robot and were relaxed around it from the start.
– Two of the three cats even queued up outside the utopia each morning, waiting to be let in.
– The AI learnt to focus on games that the cats loved.

For Blast Theory, Cat Royale confirmed that AI is a profoundly human process that was laborious and expensive. Tagging 7,500 video clips to train the computer’s vision system took time and a robot operator controlled every move of the robot arm inside the utopia. The system may have been automated but the automation was always being tweaked and monitored.

Ultimately, Blast Theory reflected on Cat Royale as a depiction of society.

“We are experimenting with a culture that privileges choice and consumer power above all else. What does it mean when our every whim can be met by automated systems? When our desires can be met so quickly, the satisfaction that we seek becomes more fleeting and insubstantial as a result. And now that the most powerful companies on earth can quickly roll out their products to billions of people, with the goal of instant gratification, what costs might we pay for AI?” Matt Adams, Blast Theory.

Read more about Cat Royale and all fourteen Curiocity Brisbane 2023 artworks.

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