The machine stood near a deli counter, stacked on top of cardboard boxes stacked near the entrance to the iconic magazine store in SoHo. Its stature resembled that of a standing washer-dryer, with black buttons, rows of flashing lights, and gauges labeled with celestial objects—the “Sun,” “Moon,” and the eight planets—in front of its white facade.
“It could be something from NASA,” said Tim Widmann, a 27-year-old student from Germany who visited the store on a Wednesday night in June.
When Mr. Widmann stood in front of the machine, its front screen instructed him to “ask the stars”. Using a knob, he solved about 100 questions. Among them: How can I become better at my job? Should I Leave New York? Should I start a cult?
After choosing a question, Mr. Wiedmann entered his date, time and place of birth. A message flashed on the screen that read in part: “All answers are based on astrological calculations.” The machine took its picture using a built-in camera. Moments later, out came a piece of paper with a grainy picture of him and the answer to his question.
“It looks like someone is there,” said Mr. Widmann, who was one of several people who came to use the machine that night. Sometimes, queues would form at the shop as people waited for their turn. Several visitors said they had heard about the machine on TikTok, including two 19-year-old students.
“I asked for my red flags,” one student said of the question he had chosen, before another student read aloud the answer printed on the machine.
She said: “Your red flags include a tendency to set high expectations and a fear of conflict. The position of your Jupiter and Saturn suggests a need for perfectionism and a fear of disapproval. By avoiding conflict, you may be limiting your potential for growth and meaningful relationships. Remember, conflict is an inherent part of intimacy. Practice it with compassion and let go of unrealistic expectations.”
The machine was developed by Co-Star, a technology company An engaging astrology app that uses AI to generate readings, It will remain at Iconic Magazine for most of the summer and then move to Los Angeles later this year.
For centuries, astrologers have referred to the movements and positions of planets and other celestial bodies to provide readings and horoscopes. Co-Star follows similar methods, but its daily readings are generated by AI that pulls text from a database written for the app by a team of astrologers and poets.
The machine, which was free to use, was created to promote Co-Star’s new in-app service, Embrace the Void, which starts at around $1. The service works similarly to the machine: users can ask open-ended questions that aren’t typically addressed in the app’s astrological readings and receive AI-generated answers using the co-star’s database of prepared text .
Co-Star’s founder, Banu Guler, 35, named an array of aesthetic inspirations for the machine, including Soviet-era computers, equipment used by NASA, photo booths, and vending and washing machines. was also influenced by zoltar fortune telling machines It was once a common attraction on boardwalks and arcades, he said.
“The best thing you can do is read a little bit,” Ms. Guler said of the Zoltar machines. “And then you put your reading on your fridge, or in your book, or in your journal, or it’s lying at the bottom of your bag for months, if I’m me.”
“Even though you know it’s garbage, it’s special garbage,” she said with a smile.
Prior to starting Co-Star in 2017, Ms. Guler was working in art sales. She said that at the time, she had taught herself to code an AI that could predict how certain factors, such as the weather on the date of the auction, might affect the selling price of an artwork. He later used what he had learned about AI to develop Co-Star.
“It was like, how does this fit into astrology?” He said.
“Astrology is not a perfect science, but there is no perfect science either, which I am not saying in an anti-scientific way,” Ms. Guler said. “I do not believe that science is perfect, and I also do not believe that anything else is perfect, because humans are imperfect. And that’s great. Like, really, it’s beautiful.”
Vijender Sharma, astrologer of 35 years from North India, who is expert Vedic Astrology, said they used software to prepare the readings. He added that because astrology was informed by science, as long as the AIs were trained with the proper knowledge, they saw no harm in using the technology.
Susan Miller, An astrologer in New York who has written horoscopes for decades, was more skeptical. “AI is exciting for things like splitting atoms,” she said, adding that she would not trust technology that often deals with human emotion. “Machines make mistakes,” Ms. Miller said. “And the person who gets the answer can carry that wrong answer in their head forever.”
After checking out the Co-Star machine at a magazine store, Nisarga Kadam, a 23-year-old who works in financial technology in New York, was also skeptical of its AI-generated answers.
“It’s a bunch of trained words put together,” Ms. Kadam said. “It’s not personal.”
Anna Janska, 26, a video director in New York, felt the opposite. Ms Joneska said she is not the biggest fan of astrology and the machine’s use of AI has made her trust it even more.
He said, “I would be more interested in believing that an old lady leaning over a crystal ball is lying to me than a computer.”