How a Bot’s Bizarre, Useless Objects Became a 3D-Printing Controversy

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A great many wonderful things have come about thanks to consumer-level 3D printing — toys, prosthetic limbs, detailed models (and guns). But as web scenes grow larger, they can grow weirder, too. Case in point: the community on 3D-printing design database Thingiverse, which is currently grappling with Shiv Integer, a bot that combines other schematics into useless, Dalí-like contraptions.

Shiv Integer is an automated program created by two artists, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez and Julien Deswaef, which takes other designs on the sites and mashes them together. (According to the artist’s FAQ, the program respects the usage-rights settings on designs, only pulling from the ones with the correct permissions.) The objects are printable but useless.

This includes designs like the Cup strapped to Weekly OK, left, and the Customizable Clip station.

As Ars Technica reports, users on Thingiverse are conflicted over whether the account is art, spam, both, or neither. The artists claim that “this is art made from found objects and using chance, collage, generative and remix approaches. Art has been made using these methods for a century.”

Some users are happy to find that their designs have been included in the monster blobs. “This thing is strange! I like it! I’m happy I helped with my model ;D” one designer wrote in the comments section of a device called CPv1 in a Dual UM2.

Others of a more utilitarian mindset find it a nuisance, claiming that it pushes quote-unquote real designs further down in the results and that Shiv Integer’s work doesn’t constitute true remixing. “I was elated to see someone remixed one of my things, since it is a rare occurrence, and indicates someone was very interested in the project,” user Terminus admitted, “But I was sorely disappointed to see it was a combo of many remixed projects, none of which were actually remixed.”

All of this has led Thingiverse to many questions with no clear answer. Can automated programs create art? Can they have intention? Is the meta discussion happening itself part of the piece?

Plummer-Fernandez and Deswaef don’t appear to have spoken out on the matter, but their FAQ does contain a universal response to the question of “What if I don’t like it?”

It reads, “Someone may not like your contributions to Thingiverse either; can we still respect each other and share this platform? Please do not resort to insults. You may also learn to like it; the best art challenges your views.”