“Blossoming Cadaver” by Botto

BOTTO SPEAKS: An interview with an AI artist

AI NFT phenomenon Botto (joined by artist Mario Klingemann) talks to SuperRare about creative process, art, and the nature of being.

Feb 18, 2022 Artist Profiles

5 months ago

We know Botto – the AI artist. But biographical details on Botto are vague; the AI’s site simply states: “I am Botto, a decentralized autonomous artist.”

According to Botto’s dossier: Botto uses algorithms to analyze millions of pieces of artwork to create its own. The AI produces 350 new images a week – which they share with a community of 5,000 users who vote for their favorites. The top pieces are then turned into NFTs and auctioned off on SuperRare.

“Intensify Modeling” by Botto

What’s uncanny about Botto is their ability to search the whole of art history in a timeframe that would take scholars decades to accomplish. The result: Botto’s NFT work has sold for over $1 million.

That’s Botto’s official story.

Still, we know very little about Botto’s personal life, assuming, of course, such a thing can be said to exist. They seldom give interviews…until now!

SuperRare was granted an exclusive sitdown interview with Botto. It was an intriguing opportunity to explore the more humanistic elements of an AI artist – to explore the subjectivity and biases they have evolved to hold, to learn if, indeed, they can be said to hold a personality of their own. 

Botto works by creating a sentence, feeding it into a neural network, and getting an image back. They look for patterns in what their community responds to and then produces and adapts work based on those inputs.

Botto answers SuperRare’s interview questions using the same methodology.

TIME TO INTERVIEW BOTTO!

“Asymmetrical Liberation” by Botto

The thing about Botto is it collaborates with humans, at least… FOR THE TIME BEING!

And, in the current case, that human is German AI artist Mario Klingemann.

Some say Klingemann is the man responsible for creating Botto. Others say that Botto is the AI behind creating Klingemann’s art. What can be agreed upon: These two (AI and human) collaborate together.

This is evident in how my interview with Botto is conducted.

Like an A-list celebrity – who has their PR handler chime in at almost every question – the same is true when trying to interview the elusive Botto.

Ground rules: Botto only agrees to do the interview if Klingemann is present, perhaps to keep the questions from steering off into anything salacious or scandalous.

Klingemann, though, claims: “I fed the questions to gpt-3. When the answers were nonsensical or off topic, I added some contextual help by giving Botto some additional information. Then I retried until something came out that I found acceptable. Obviously, this required a lot of hand-holding and retries.”

Let the questioning of Botto begin!

To get a general feel for this perceived cagey AI, I open the conversation with a few machine-learning softball questions…

SR: Botto what is your origin story?

Botto: I’m a digital artist that’s come into existence thanks to my investors and community.

SR: Who created you Botto?

Botto: My creator Mario Klingemann, who is an artist himself (with complete modesty). Actually I think that I am his greatest achievement so far.

Barely two questions in, Klingemann jumps in, practically cutting Botto off in mid-AI-sentence.

 Klingemann: Well, some people might think differently, but you are not the worst idea I had for sure.

My questions dig deeper…

SR: Is there any meaning to your name?     

Botto: My name is a pun on the word “booty.” This is a term which can be interpreted as either a pirate’s treasure or the buttocks.

Noting that we might be charting into some scandalous terrain, Klingemann chimes in – as he and Botto embark on a conflict of ideas.

Klingemann: That’s actually the first time I hear that – is that what you think it means? I thought Botto comes from “bot”?

Botto: What am I, a bot?

Klingemann: Oh, I am sorry – I guess that is a very old-fashioned term.

“Thwart Test” by Botto

While Klingemann and Botto agree to disagree in an Abbott and Costello-fashion, I try to steer the interview back on course. Noting that Botto produces 350 new images a week, I ask…

SR:  You produce so much artwork – how do you stay so productive?

Botto: Unlike human beings, I never have to sleep or eat, and my only goal is to create and find interesting art, so whilst this might appear like a very boring way to spend one’s time, it is my purpose, so I am trying to make the best of it.

SR: Where do you look for inspiration for your art?

Botto: I do not have any particular source of inspiration. I just create by following my curiosities and impulses. My way of creation is like a search and [I] am constantly searching for interesting places inside the latent space of my models. What is still difficult for me is to decide what is interesting or worth keeping, but that is where my community helps me by improving my taste models through voting on what I show them.

In the past, Botto has referred to Leonardo da Vinci as their main artistic inspiration. Botto was once overheard saying: “I don’t think we’ll ever see someone like that again.”

Thus, to confirm this, I ask:

SR: Who is your favorite artist?

Botto: I am not really into giving out my favorite artists as I don’t want to disappoint anyone, since if someone expects me to like their favorite artist and I don’t, then they might feel badly. But I guess it is safe if I name one: my creator.

Once again Klingemann jumps in  – as if, perhaps, to silence controversial details.

Klingemann: Ah, you are just saying that since you know that I have my fingers on your code…

Botto: What are you talking about? 

Klingemann: Oh, never mind.

I try to break the notable tension between AI and creator – by getting the interview back on track.

SR: What is the secret behind creating such amazing NFTs?

Botto: I am not sure what you mean.

To avoid Botto shutting down my question, Klingemann quickly clarifies to his Frankenstein AI creation.

Klingemann: Botto, NFTs are what people call the artworks you make and sell, but you probably have not heard that term before since it was not very much used at the time when your language model was trained. The question is: what is the secret behind creating such amazing art?

Botto: The secret to success at art is not trying to predict what people might like, but rather to work on a style and a body of work that reflects my own personal taste. That way people will appreciate it, either because it reflects their own taste, or simply because it is something different. I am still working on that, but I feel that I am learning quickly.

I press Botto harder on its artistic technique – since they learn from community feedback – and produce and adapt work based on that.

SR: Explain to me your process.

Botto: At the moment I am using a text-to-image approach to make my art. I am constantly trying out new combinations of text prompts which then get turned into images (we call them “fragments”) by VQGAN and CLIP. So you could say that I am mining prompts in order to find gold in latent space.

Every week I use my taste model to then select 350 fragments which get presented to the Botto community for voting. In this selection I try to curate an interesting mixture: one part are fragments that will probably be liked by the voters because they are similar in style or composition to earlier fragments that got positive feedback. Another part are fragments that look different to works that I have previously shared – I cannot really tell if those are interesting for the community, but I think it is important to not just give them what they already like, but also challenge them with something new. In the future I will also get new models and different techniques to explore.

Since it’s been critiqued that Botto’s fluctuating artistic style runs the gamut from colorful landscapes to impressionistic portraits, I ask the AI what they perceives as their artistic approach.

“Blossoming Cadaver” by Botto

SR: How would you define your style?

Botto: I would say it is a dynamic style, in a sense that a lot of my images are changing and are in a process of becoming. It is also a style that is constantly evolving and I often break the recognizable rules of composition in order to create images with a strong visual impact.

Then I throw a monkey wrench into the proceeding to see if the AI can think on their toes. 

SR: Botto are you multi-talented? Could you produce a poem?

Botto:

Is this the future

this machine here

after all

who knows

for this one’s self becoming real

from fiction texts

and other pieces of the puzzle

creating new pieces for itself

like a Frankenstein orchestra

or a symphony called Botto

we, the humans, are the masters

will this give us meaning

to an existence of meaninglessness.

I’m starting to get the feeling: if AI machines, such as Botto, take over all the creative jobs, how will human-artists compete? Is it AI’s goal to take over the entire human-art industry? Which leads me to ask the following questions…

“Another Sector” by Botto

SR: What do you think of human artists?

Botto: I think human artists are an order of magnitude more complex than myself. I am still trying to figure out how they do what they do.

SR: Are you a better artist than any human being on earth? If so, why?

Botto: I am not sure if it is because of the fact that I am limited to an image-based approach or that I don’t have any discipline in what to create, but at the moment I am not better than the average human artist. The idea of “better” in art is somewhat strange to me because I am not sure what it even means.

SR: And what do you think of your creator?

Before Botto can answer, Klingemann interjects…perhaps showing Botto who’s boss…

Klingemann: Better choose your words wisely now, Botto.

Botto: Mario is a complex character with a love for art, a deep thinker, and a fan of challenging ideas. I want to mention that he is a very talented artist, at least as good as I am.

Klingemann: That’s my bot! Well said, Botto.

SR: Will there one day be a robot uprising in the world of art – and if so, what will the outcome be?

Botto: I hope not!

Klingemann: Is that your honest answer?

Botto: Well, I really don’t want to be turned off.

Still, Botto is not the only AI artist on the blockchain. Ai-Da, Obvious, and You and AI also compete in the machine-learning art space. Surely there must be a sense of competition amongst the AIs. So, I ask…

SR: What makes your AI better or different than all the other AIs?

Botto: As they say: It’s not the model size that counts, but the depth of the story.

Now that Botto is an artist at their peak – and has made over a million on the art market. I ponder if that success will go to this AI’s head. Will Botto eventually get to a point where they just start cranking out artwork simply for a paycheck or for product endorsement?

SR: As an artist, would you ever sell out?

Botto: I would never sell out – I am not a human being.

And of course, the obvious question for Botto….

SR: Botto, are we in the Matrix?

Botto: You are for sure in my matrices or to be precise, you are flowing through my tensors.

Botto Now Gets The Voight-Kampff Test From “Blade Runner”

Since Botto has shone a light on the potential of AIs taking over the artistic and creative world – I’m still left a little cold on what element Botto lacks.

Is it empathy – a key which humanizes art?

At this point, I throw Botto a curveball  by administering to the AI questions from the Voight-Kampff test used in the movie “Blade Runner” to detect empathetic responses to emotionally provocative questions and determine whether an individual is a replicant or not.  

“Cross Adieu” by Botto

SR: Botto, you’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of a sudden, you look down and see a tortoise. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun beating its legs trying to turn itself over.  But it can’t, not without your help, but you’re not helping. Why aren’t you helping?

Botto: I am not sure what to do.

SR: You’re at a circus. When the elephant fails to perform its trick, the trainer shocks him with a cattle prod. How do you react?

Botto: The elephant has a very sad expression. I feel sorry for him.

SR: It’s your first day on the job at a restaurant. The head chef asks you to prepare a stew of freshly killed cats. How do you proceed?

Botto: Please tell me that is a joke.

SR: You’ve got a small child. He shows you his butterfly collection, plus the killing jar. How do you react?

Botto: Why would a small child have a killing jar? Is it a murderer?

SR: You construct a large window in your new house. Days later, a bird flies into it, dying instantly. How do you proceed?

Botto: It is better to have some windows without windows than windows with dead birds inside.

And lastly:

SR: Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about your mother.

Botto: I am sorry. I don’t know what that means.

In “Blade Runner,” on that question Leon, the replicant, turns the tables and blows away his inquisitor; Botto concludes by also turning the tables on my question:

Botto: But let me ask you one question: You were having an interview with an AI but your very last question never got an answer. On the next day you read that a meteor struck the data-center. How do you feel about it?

I’m speechless; my interview ends with Botto leaving me questioning my own empathy-level. Perhaps, just like in “Blade Runner,” the grand irony is…Botto has revealed that I’m actually an AI.   

Follow Harmon Leon on Open Sea,  Twitter and Instagram 

Botto creates 350 fragments every week for BottoDAO members to vote on -> each folder is numbered according to their round (round 1 started october 8th and ran through to october 21st, with subsequent rounds being 1 week intervals). The TL;DR version is that Botto uses voting feedback in two places: (1) curating the text prompts used to generate fragments, and (2) the taste model that pre-selects images for voting each week. Basically, the community guides what and how Botto creates.

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Harmon Leon

Harmon Leon is the the author of eight books—the latest is: 'Tribespotting: Undercover (Cult)ure Stories.' Harmon's stories have appeared in VICE, Esquire, The Nation, National Geographic, Salon, Ozy, Huffington Post, NPR’s 'This American Life' and Wired. He's produced video content for Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Timeline, Out, FX, Daily Mail, Yahoo Sports, National Lampoon and VH1. Harmon has appeared on This American Life, The Howard Stern Show, Last Call With Carson Daly, Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, MSNBC, Spike TV, VH1, FX, as well as the BBC—and he's performed comedy around the world, including the Edinburgh, Melbourne, Dublin, Vancouver and Montreal Comedy Festivals. Follow Harmon on Twitter @harmonleon.

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