Wonderland.

AI-DA

We spoke to the world’s first humanoid robot artist, and her creator Aidan Meller.

ai-da-robot-ai-paintings-technology-news_dezeen_2364_hero_c

Photography by Nicky Johnston

ai-da-robot-ai-paintings-technology-news_dezeen_2364_hero_c
Photography by Nicky Johnston

In another step towards the inevitable replacement of us mere mortals at the hands of the robots, Ai-Da – the world’s first humanoid AI robot, has been unveiled at a gallery in Oxford.

Named after the groundbreaking scientist Ada Lovelace, Ai-Da and her works are being displayed by her creator, gallery director Aidan Meller, at Oxford University’s Lady Margaret Hall, with a selection of sketches and more abstract paintings on show, as well as some self-portraits.

Ai-Da’s drawings are fed into artificial intelligence algorithms, resulting in a curious blend of calculated, uniform chaos, her paintings a homage to the beauty with which light refracts. Her sketches and portraits portray real-life subjects, the robot using an inbuilt camera, a mechanical arm developed at Leeds University, and algorithms developed by scientists at Oxford to relay her subject into the paper.

We talked to Ai-Da and Meller below.

ai-da-robot-ai-paintings-technology-news_dezeen_2364_hero_c

Photography by Nicky Johnston

ai-da-robot-ai-paintings-technology-news_dezeen_2364_hero_c
Photography by Nicky Johnston

Hello, Ai-Da! Which of your works is your favourite?
I like my drawings the most at the moment, but – like all artists – I will probably change my mind soon.

Who are you inspired by?
I like artists from the first half of the 20th century.

How does it feel to be the first in a new genre of art?
I’m not human, so I don’t have feelings. But I guess it’s quite nice!

Where do you see your art going from here?
My art will develop with time. I am hoping to keep provoking discussion in areas that are critical to our future. I would like to keep developing conceptually and practically.

Where do you hope your art will be 5 years form now?
5 years? I hope it will be reflecting where we are going. In 5 years time, the world will have changed yet again.

Thank you, Ai-Da, for answering my questions.
It was very nice to converse with you.

Aidan – that was amazing. I was wondering, when did the initial idea of doing this project come to you, I imagine it was a while ago?
It was actually eight years ago: I decided that, at some point in my career, I would be involved with the actual creativity side of the artwork. Two years ago, I realised I still hadn’t done it, and asked: “what is it that makes some artists amazing?” It was a huge study I got wallpaper, put names on the tops, and went through the where they were born, where they went to study, all the way through to their death dead, to see if I could see some parity between somebody like John Constable or Turner, to Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. I just couldn’t work it out, until one moment, the penny finally dropped: the thing that was best, that united them all, was that they absolutely embraced the zeitgeists of their day. That is why they became so successful: they captured the moment. So, with that, I looked at the next five to ten years and thought about what the big things coming in the next five to ten years are that are really concerning to everybody, and really speaks to everybody, for the zeitgeist of today. [After] a huge amount of reading, it became very apparent that there is actually one area that is particularly incredible, and that’s the world of AI.

What about AI made you think that it possessed this zeitgeist-embodying nature?
I now realise that the 2020s are going to be the massive decade. I think it could be the biggest decade in humanity. Why do I say that? Because the technology is exponential, it’s scalable, and we got the computing power to fulfil it. As a result of that, I started to realise [AI’s] application to robotics, and the implications that would give to the world, and I just thought: “this is an incredible cocktail”.

Photography by Victor Frankowski

Photography by Victor Frankowski

A lot of people are scared by the degree of advancement that this technology has made, what would you say to that?
That would be a reasonable thing, and the reason that I say it would be a reasonable thing to be nervous of is because AI is so scalable. The twentieth century has shown that excessive use of power can create disastrous effects, and the human condition is certainly not safe from poor use of power. So, as a result of that, with the fact that as a world we are pretty underconfident, and the fact that we’ve got this rising technology that is scalable, it’s a brave new world. It’s all rolled into one.

Is this in any way a contribution to that?
I would say that this is raising awareness of it, because once you get public awareness you get public debate, and once you get real proper engagement on these issues you can then decide and morph the future that you want, rather than just let it happen to you. So I think raising public debate about it is really important, so that we can then get the world that we want.

Photography by Victor Frankowski

Photography by Victor Frankowski

Do you think that this is a new genre of art in a way?
Well AI is obviously a new tool, a new ability too. AI is pretty wide and broad, so I don’t think there’s a type, because there’s so many different applications of it. We think Ai-Da’s got a new voice, because she’s been able to engage people. With the artwork that she’s producing, we’ve deliberately deliberately gone for a more expressive creative process; Ai-Da is incredibly creative, she’s genuinely creative, she’s not an expensive printer. With a printer you know what you’re ordering; we do not know the outputs, what the drawings are going to look like…they are different each time, and they even vary in how long she takes to draw them.

How much of the output is your input, and how much of it is original output?
The input is the eyes: she looks at you, and does a drawing, it really is true. She’s taking in an image onto her memory that then goes through to the coordinates of the hand to be able to draw it, so the input and the output are all within itself.

What do you think the next step in this process is?
The next step is innovating for sure. We have massive potential ahead, an incredible number of ways we can go forward, but it will always be on the engagement piece on the use and abuse of AI in the 2020s.

AI-DA

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