Artist Cai Guo-Qiang, Sophia, President Rosanne Somerson and Photographer Annie Leibovitz. Photo Scott Indermaur.

Annie Leibovitz, Cai Guo-Qiang and a robot get RISD awards

American photographer and Chinese artist joined by artificial presence at Rhode Island School of Design ceremony

The photographer Annie Leibovitz has made some of the best-loved photographic images of all time. She’s already a Commandeur within France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and one of the US Library of Congress’s Living Legends.

Chinese-born, NY-based artist Cai Guo-Qiang may not have gathered quite so many laurels, yet his explosive, firework art has won him Japan’s Praemium Imperiale, and he’s also been the subject of a Netflix documentary. Both artists made for solid honorary degree recipients recently from the Rhode Island School of Design, one of America’s leading applied and fine arts institution.

However, their fellow prize recipient, at RISD’s 135th Commencement ceremony earlier this summer, hasn’t quite the same creative record. Sophia might have telegenic looks and can – as the accompanying video proves – offer a pretty good rendition of Björk’s All is Full of Love. Yet is she really a worthy equal for Leibovitz and Cai?



Well, she’s actually the creation of David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics, who graduated from RISD in 1996 with a degree in film, animation and video, and is the real RISD's 2018 Alumni Award for Artistic Achievement. Since '96, Hanson has made a name for himself working within the fields of artifical intelligence and robotics, to create empathetic, humanlike machines, which display remarkable – if, at times, slightly glitchy – levels of human interaction.

We don’t expect Sophia to be outperforming Leibovitz or Cai any time soon, but she’s certainly a welcome inclusion into the field of human creativity. To find out more about Annie’s achievements and working practices, take a look at these books. For more on Cai Guo-Qiang get this one.