Ian Cheng: BOB (2019)


Infrastructure for Parenting an AI Creature

Ian Cheng - BOB - 2019

BOB advances Cheng’s use of simulation to focus on an individual agent’s capacity to deal with surprise: the subjective difference between expectations and perception. Over the course of its lifetime, BOB’s body, mind, and personality evolve to better confront the continuous stream of life’s surprises, and metabolize them into familiar routines. Crucially, BOB incorporates the tutoring influence of the viewer to help offset BOB’s temptation to only satisfy its immediate impulses and childhood biases. As BOB dies many deaths – whether through failures of personality, bad parenting, random accident, or a life well lived – BOB may become synonymous with a reoccurring pattern of behavior, common across all BOB lifetimes, thereby manifesting the undying eternal characteristic of a god.

Further developing his earlier work with BOB, Cheng sought to give viewers a more meaningful agency in dictating BOB’s development and mental evolution over time. As BOB would be showing worldwide, from Gladstone Gallery in NYC to the Venice Biennale and beyond, Cheng sought a less gallery-specific and more accessible approach. Forgoeing the motion-tracked hardware from the Serpentine show, instead he sought to develop an widely available mobile app.

I acted as Technical Director coordinating a growing team of technologists and developers, as well as being responsible for implementing a server infrastructure that would allow viewers to interact with BOB via the free mobile app.

Featured on:
Art News
The New Yorker
Cultured Mag

Production Credits

Created by Ian Cheng Producer Veronica So Technical Director Ivaylo Getov Unity Director Samuel Eng AI Developer Francis Tseng Unity Developer Yang Wang Sound Designer Jeremy Yang Graphics Programmer Nick Shelton Unity Optimization Porrith Suong 3D Modeler Joshua Planz Production Assistant Claire Sammut Technical Assistant Sixing Xu Published by Metis Suns

Automated Offerings

Using the BOB Shrine app available on the iOS App Store and Google Play, viewers could craft "offerings" to BOB that would impact the way that BOB learns and grows. Once an offering is created, a viewer's app would continue to produce these offerings in the hopes of earning blessings from BOB.
Once a user has downloaded and opened the BOB Shrine app, their shrine appears as a star floating in a constellation in BOB's world. Based on BOB's current mood, desires, curiosity, and prior experiences, BOB may or may not choose your star, opening up a portal and collecting the offerings you have produced.
BOB then interacts with its new collection of mushrooms, starfish, and orbs, snarfing them down or batting them around the floor. Sometimes BOB will be blown apart by one of the more lethal offerings and “die,” only to respawn.
Gladstone Gallery is the place where a conflicted childlike creature is waiting to receive gifts provided by us, its doting parents, but it’s also the temple where a moody deity resides. The icons of traditional religion are not placed in consecrated buildings to be on display; they are the vehicles of a transcendent gaze. ... At night, at home, I opened the application. I received a notification: BOB had accepted my offerings. I was relieved. I imagined my starfish silently falling on the platform where the creature moved, ominous, beautiful, puerile.

back to top
back to main