IKEA Research Studio Uses AI to Create a Folding Sofa that Fits in an Envelope


Space10, an independent design studio that is supported by—and creates designs for—Swedish furniture powerhouse IKEA, has used machine learning to build a flat-pack sofa weighing only 22 lbs that fits inside an envelope.

This latest AI invention initially began as a challenge prompt. The team set out to use machine learning to try and square the circle and pack a foldable sofa inside an envelope. 

The item was built in collaboration with Swiss designers Panter&Tourron. It is modular, with rearrangeable wings and cushions. However, it’s not currently for retail. It’s being exhibited as part of an AI design exhibition and the Copenhagen Architecture Festival. 

The couch in an envelope. Image: Space10

According to the designers, the final iteration of the couch was arrived at after hundreds of different iterations, but the pivotal prompt that furnished the sofa with its distinct character was the words “conversation pit.” 

After feeding the machine learner with those two words, its generative designs started including people sitting on the sofa facing each other. Hey presto, a revolutionary new couch was born, ushering in with it a new machine age in flat-pack design. 

According to the designers, the project aims to increase the sustainability of furniture by using a tool-less and screw-less design that makes it easy to assemble and disassemble, as well as being easier and less energy-intensive to transport in its folded state.

AI: Easy living or mass extinction?

The benefits of artificial intelligence are too many to list. To advocates, AI is a tool that will lighten our workloads, improve our designs and potentially usher in a new age in health, learning, work, recreation, creativity and just about every other human endeavor. 

However, a growing number of tech experts and luminaries are increasingly vocal about the need to globally regulate the development of advanced machine learning systems to prepare for the advent of human-level artificial cognition, aka Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). 

There are some grounds for concern. After the release of OpenAI’s popular chatbot GPT-4, many concerning behaviours from the machine learner were reported including exploiting smart contracts, rudimentarily planning its own escape and falsely accusing people of committing sexual assault while hallucinating a Washington Post article as a citation to substantiate the accusation.

In April, ChatGPT developer  Logan Kilpatrick assured his followers on Twitter that work has not commenced on GPT-5 and will not “for some time.

Last month, executives from Microsoft, Google, and ChatGPT progenitor OpenAI, sounded a stark warning to governments about the failure to adequately prepare for advanced systems. 

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