Skin-cutting is a common, and important, ritual in some tribal societies for a variety of reasons. Some groups perform the ritual as a rite of passage, others to differentiate themselves from neighboring tribes, and some as a means of spiritual purification. Purification through cutting in particular interested artist Marco Donnarumma, and inspired him to build a robot to do just that.
Under its almost disturbingly organic shell, Amygdala MKI is essentially a standard robotic arm. But, that’s where the similarity to conventional robots ends. In place of a traditional end effector is a blade, and Amygdala MKI uses that instrument to cut its artificial skin—skin that’s even embedded with Donnarumma’s own hair.
If that’s not strange enough for you, the robot isn’t simply following pre-programmed motions to cut itself. Instead, it possesses artificial intelligence, and actually learns to perform the ritual. It’s not clear what kind of AI architecture is being used, or how it’s being trained, but it seems effective in achieving the goal.
The big question is why Donnarumma would build this self-mutilating robot. He says “In both animistic tribes and religious societies, access to social positions is granted only to those who performs particular rituals. In a similar and dangerous way, AI algorithms are used today to categorize human bodies and regulate their access to medical assistance, social welfare and criminal systems.” But, honestly, that just seems like hand-waving to justify building this odd—and fascinating—robot.