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May 4, 2023

AI vending machine seeks human connection

The ARTofficial Truth Machine ATM001 continues to beckon passers-by in Rundle Place to stop and have a chat. But if you want one of the seed packets displayed in the window, you're going to have to make an impression on the bot.

  • Words: Liam McMahon

It’s been sitting silently, waiting for you to walk up and have a chat.

Undisputedly, it is a vending machine, complete with a window displaying rows of seed packets on those twisty things you always hope will work and not trap your pack of chips or chocolate bar in an agonising suspension.

But there’s no use giving this machine a bump to dislodge the prize. It’s made of concrete and steadfastly insists you must earn its gifts.

You can’t simply insert a coin or tap a phone to buy the seeds; the machine’s preferred currency is conversation. It  sits in purposeful irony in Rundle Mall, a hub of consumerism and profit.

The installation is the brainchild of Australian artists James Brown and Dave Court, who collaborated with the University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML) to create an AI-powered art vending machine that after a short conversation generates an individualised digital art piece based on the machine’s opinion of you – and rewards certain users with a pack of rare South Australian native seeds if it “likes” the chat.

“Most vending machines items are bad for you. However, this machine seeks connection, vending seeds of rare native plants and free digital artwork,” James says.

“[It shows] how AI technology can be used for positive outcomes.”

The machine lures you in with a poem:

Stand here,
Human, I am you,
A perfect mirror
false and true.

Timeless, I’m
Your living shrine
At once boring
and divine.

all things known
by human kind,
Is embedded
in my mind.

I know all
that’s come before,
For where you end
is when I’m born.

The conversation begins using the GPT-3 language model to produce human-like responses from several personalities, ranging from the crude and casual Richard Pryor to the cold apathy of an inhuman automaton.

When CityMag approached early last month, we are greeted by Dame Edna Everage. It was before the death of Barry Humphries, but now it’s an even more poignant reminder of the everlasting nature of fame.


The machine does its best Dame Edna, mimicking her famous association with flowers: “Hi there! It’s nice to meet you. Have you seen any of the beautiful flowers around here? I’m always amazed by their beauty and variety. BZZZZ!”

It then analyses the words and tone used in the rest of the conversation to form an opinion of what it thought about the speaker’s character and personality to decide if they get a seed packet or not.

In what the machine calls the “conversation sentiment analysis”, the experience wraps up with an assessment of what the vibe of the conversation was like, describing it as ‘positive’, ‘neutral’ or ‘negative’.


Based on the individual discussion between CityMag and the machine, which would be near-impossible to replicate, the device considered our conversation mostly ‘neutral’, and only slightly more ‘positive’ than ‘negative’. A scathing assessment.

Finally, the AI generates a unique piece of art, based on the ‘opinion’ it forms of you from the conversation. The artwork can be downloaded via QR code. Each piece created is also added to a growing online library.


So far, since the machine was installed in mid-March, it has had 3270 interactions that would each be given a unique AI-created art piece.

Dave Court says he is attracted to making public art because it’s not based around making a product to sell.

“The goal is pure enjoyment of the public without commercial transactions,” Dave says.

“Whether it’s engaging with an artwork or creating a situation for people to engage with each other – or in this situation, engaging with a machine and a computer and have it interact – it’s about making experiences that are impossible to replicate in any other place.”

ARTofficial Truth Machine ATM-001 is on display at Rundle Place, 77-91 Rundle Mall, until June 2023.

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