An AI-Powered Salvador Dalí, Answering Your Questions Via A Lobster Telephone

“What’s the best work of art you’ve ever created?” “What’s your Zodiac sign?” “What’s up with the mustache?” Visitors to the Salvador Dalí Museum can ask the famed Spanish Surrealist anything and he’ll reply using AI models trained on a dataset of writings and archival interviews that capture his ideas, imagination and humor.

Not only that, museum-goers chat with AI Dalí by picking up a phone inspired by one of his most famous Surrealist composite objects, the Lobster Telephone. It playfully combines communication device and plastic crustacean, merging two disparate items to create a bizarre new reality, as Dalí so often did. The replica stands just feet away from a real Lobster Telephone on display at the St. Petersburg, Florida museum, one of 10 such functioning handsets created in the 1930s.

AI Dalí is just the latest historical figure resurrected with technology to make the past more memorable, immediate and engaging. An interactive, AI-powered Vincent Van Gogh recently chatted with visitors to the Musée D’Orsay in Paris, for example. And virtual WWII veterans are now telling their stories at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Unlike both those interactive experiences, however, “Ask Dalí,” which opened Thursday, doesn’t feature a life-size digital doppelganger. Here, it’s just Dalí’s voice, coming at you through a Lobster Telephone fitted with a microphone. For accessibility, his answers appear on a monitor in closed captions beneath a graphic inspired by his signature long, twisty facial hair.

While it’s becoming common to see famous people resurrected with modern tech tools, AI Dalí still appears a bit perplexed to find himself conversing with the public in 2024, 35 years after his death.

“How they brought me here is far beyond my comprehension,” AI Dalí says in a video teaser for the interactive experience. “All I know is that they used something called a large language model in a recreation of my voice.”

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To reanimate one of the most celebrated artists of all time, creative agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners relied on models trained with OpenAI’s Chat GPT-4, a version of the large language model that powers the ChatGPT online chatbot. ElevenLabs’ Eleven Multilingual V2 text-to-speech platform generated Dalí’s voice.

Jeff Goodby, co-founder and co-chairman of GS&P, said the artist, who lived from 1904 to 1989, likely would have embraced this newfangled version of himself. “Dalí was fascinated by the latest tools and technologies of his era and continually explored various artistic media,” Goodby said in a statement.

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“Ask Dalí” debuted in March at SXSW during an event focused on the future of creativity before arriving at the Salvador Dalí Museum, which works closely with The Dalí Foundation, created by the artist himself to promote, boost and protect his work and legacy. Once AI Dalí got up and chatting in Florida, museum director Hank Hine asked it what visitors should be sure to see there.

“One must seek the melting clocks in ‘The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory,’ where time drips like a dream refusing to be contained,” replied AI Dalí, referring to the artist’s iconic 1931 oil on canvas depicting the fluidity of time.

If museum visitors want to ask AI Dalí more about that painting or other works, however, they shouldn’t be disappointed with less-than-definitive answers.

“It is not necessary for the public to know whether I am joking or whether I am serious,” Dalí once said, “just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself.”

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