interview: rhizomatiks explores ethical AI models at Snar+D for the festival’s 30th anniversary

SÓNAR+D: intersection between technology and artistic innovation

Sónar+D, the international meeting of digital culture and creative technologies, celebrated its eleventh edition as part of the 30th anniversary of the Sónar Festival. With a focus on the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on music, audiovisual and interactive arts, Sónar+D brought together experts, organizations and companies from around the world. The program included a wide range of activities, including conferences, workshops and showcases, exploring the cultural, ethical, economic and industrial implications of AI. Through presentations of famous people such as MIT average Laboratory researcher Kate Darling and AI music expert CJ Carr, the program delved into the future of human-robot relationships and the creative applications of AI in music composition.

Within the dynamic landscape of Sónar+D, during the 30th anniversary celebration of Sónar Festival, designboom had the opportunity to interact with Rhizomatiks, a Tokyo-based creative collective exploring the intersection of technology and artistic expression through experimental projects and research. With a team of artists, designers and engineers, they specialize in R&D-intensive approaches and take responsibility for every aspect of their projects, from hardware and software development to operations. Their activities span various fields, including media art, advertising, entertainment, architecture, and urban development. Rhizomatiks aims to push the boundaries and provide society with cutting-edge creative works and research.

interview: rhizomatiks explores ethical AI models at Sónar+D for the festival's 30th anniversary
Elevenplay × Rhizomatiks ‘anti-parallel’. video experience using Canon’s proprietary MR system, “MREAL”

image © Rhizomatiks


Rhizomatiks, led by digital artist Daito Manabe, hosted an intense masterclass titled “Generative AI and the Arts”. In this session, accompanied by engineer Yuya Hanai, they explored the inner workings of generative AI and prompt-based image synthesis technology. Through examining Rhizomatiks’ AI models, including the publicly available “Mitsua Diffusion CC0” and intriguing “AI YouTuber” Mitsua Elan, the duo provided invaluable insights into the development and use of AI technology. They also discussed the ethical and creative implications associated with their pioneering work.

designboom (DB): Could you describe your practice and elaborate on the core themes and concepts you explore?

Daito Manabe (DS): Certainly. Rhizomatiks is a team of diverse and talented people, initially we were just two people and our work was more cutting edge. However, we now divide the teams for each project, operating more like an art or music collective. We began exploring AI, or what was then called machine learning, in 2015. We recently began developing an ethical and copyright-free model in response to concerns about creative ownership in the field of AI. Our goal in this latest project is to foster innovation and inclusiveness while addressing the complexities of intellectual property in AI-generated art.

DB: Could you tell us more about your generative AI ethics model?

Yuya Anai (YA): Initially, Generative AI involved providing a text prompt and generating an image. However, with extensive training, it has become difficult to observe improvements in stair design. Copyright issues have also become a concern. To solve this problem, we started with training AI using public domain images and gradually incorporated character code elements that grow with the audience. We even created a Twitter signup form and 150 people signed up. Initially, we built the AI ​​model using public domain images, but the quality was not high. Our goal now is to present a new AI drawing character with audience participation. The base model of this AI is publicly available and we plan to publish additional styles using images obtained from opt-in forms, such as those on Twitter.

interview: rhizomatiks explores ethical AI models at Sónar+D for the festival's 30th anniversary
Squarepushers, live images by Daito Manabe / Rhizomatiks. image © Rhizomatiks

DB: You mentioned being involved in AI projects since 2015, when it wasn’t talked about much. What changes have you observed over the years and what do you foresee for the future of AI-generated art and its impact on society?

DM and YA: One thing is certain: the quality has improved and it has become easier for everyone to experience AI through platforms such as Discord and web interfaces. However, the system itself has been around for a long time. We believe technology is truly complete when it reaches a large audience. The importance of content and the growing number of people joining the AI ​​community are significant. The approach to engaging the community has been clever, as seen in the Midjourney project. While some jobs may be affected, the extent of this will depend on government regulations. People won’t be completely unemployed, but there will be a range of possibilities and different levels of quality between those who use AI and those who don’t. AI can provide previously inaccessible inspiration, expanding the creative scope.”

Rhizomatic portrait
Rhizomatic portrait. image © designboom

DB: The previous buzzword in digital creativity was NFT. Do you think they will survive and are you participating in this camp?

DM: I am involved in NFT under an alter ego. While NFTs and Generative AI are trending topics, our focus is not just on NFTs themselves, but rather the broader potential of blockchain technology. However, when comparing different AI services, technologies like ChatGPT have a more significant influence.

DB: What advice do you give young creatives?

DM: Our advice is to explore the unconventional uses of AI. Just as scratching on a turntable has emerged as a significant new technique, people are currently experimenting with rapid injection to find AI weaknesses. Such approaches can lead to the creation of something new and meaningful.

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