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AI Salvador Dalí Answers Your Questions on His Famous “Lobster Telephone”

A grayscale image of Salvador Dali with a small wild cat and an image of his white Lobster Telephone
Source: Library of Congress/Picryl/Martin Pagh Ludvigsen/Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Surrealist Salvador Dalí will answer your calls on his famous “Lobster Telephone” at at the Dalí Museum, in St. Petersburg, Florida

While it might not be the real Dalí on the other side of the phone (the famed artist died in 1989), museum visitors will have the opportunity to ask any questions they like to a possible generative artificial intelligence that sounds and responds very similarly to Dalí.

“Ask Dalí,” a new installation based on a copy of Dalí’s iconic “Lobster Telephone” sculpture, allows visitors to pick up the crustacean-shaped receiver to ask a question and receive a response. What makes this heavily English-accented response so unique is its manner.

The project began in 2019 when the Dalí Museum started featuring more tech-infused installations, enabling visitors to engage with Dalí and art across a series of exhibitions. The first AI installation, “Dalí Lives,” allowed visitors to interact with Dalí’s likeness on a series of screens throughout the museum. “Dream Tapestry” enabled visitors to create original digital paintings from a text description of a dream.

Dalí was infamous for his cryptic answers to rather straightforward questions. During a 1966 interview with CBC, the interviewer asked Dalí if he thought he was crazy for creating melting clocks, packing cauliflower in cars, and sporting a gravity-defying mustache, and Dalí responded: “Dalí is almost crazy. But the only difference between crazy people and Dalí is Dalí is not crazy.”

Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the San Francisco-based ad agency collaborating with the Dalí Museum on the installation, utilized OpenAI’s GPT-4 to train the artist’s AI voice on samples extracted from archival interviews conducted in English (Dalí spoke four languages—Catalan, Spanish, French, and English) throughout the artist’s career.

“These have formed the basis of Dalí’s words and tone of voice through careful prompt engineering, refining, and testing,” said Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ director of creative technology & AI Martin Pagh Ludvigsen (via NPR).

GPT-4 is trained on almost all publicly available text, given the generative AI extensive information about Dalí. The Dalí Museum also used selected English translations of Dalí’s writing in other languages—including the artist’s “Mystical Manifesto,” “Diary of a Genius,” and “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí,” to help train the artist’s AI voice.

So far, the AI Dalí have answered more than 3,000 questions, according to Ludvigsen, who is monitoring the AI’s answers, but not the visitors’ specific questions. People ask big questions about life, love, and death from Dalí,” Ludvigsen said, adding that the AI “frequently speaks of [Dalí’s] wife Gala when discussing love—’My marriage to Gala was an exquisite tapestry of love, beyond the binaries of mortal understanding,’ just popped up in the tool.”

Another common topic visitors touch on is the “Lobster Telephone” itself. In the 1930s, Dalí created at least 10 objects resembling the “Lobster Telephone,” crafting them from rotary telephones and plaster lobsters. Some versions of the phone are in black and red–you can find one at The Tate in London–while others–like the one on display in the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg–are in white.


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