The story of Ai-Da: when art becomes an artist

How do you feel about robots? What about AI robots who are made to create music or art? Can this type of art be considered as valuable as something created by a human with “real” emotions and thoughts? But then again, are we even aware who created most things we come into contact with? Do we know if the paintings hanging in the museum are an original or a replica? Are we sure the person on the other side of our internet conversation or help-desk is a human and not a robot? Let’s explore these questions and emotions that arise through the story of Ai-Da.

So, who or what is Ai-Da actually?

Ai-Da is conveniently both a piece of contemporary art and an artist who creates contemporary art. She uses her eyes to see and her robotic arms do draw, paint or sculpt. She is the world’s first ultra-realistic robot artist. Ai-Da was created by Oxford art dealer and entrepreneur Aidan Melleris, and named after Ada Lovelace, a 19th century English mathematician who created a computer program for Charles Babbage’s prototype of a digital computer. Ada has therefore been called the first computer programmer. Ai-Da in contrast is not a computer programmer, but rather a program herself. She uses her camera eyes and various algorithms to create art. She is also capable of speaking, and calls herself a performance artist – she collaborates with humans to create paintings and sculptures.

Ai-Da raises many questions and contemplations about the meaning of art, the definitions of creativity, and who or what can be considered an artist. She even talks about these contradictions herself, touching on many important topics, which you can learn more about and hear her speak during a TedTalk she held at Oxford:

We can see Ai-Da is quite self-aware, or at least programmed to appear self-aware, but there is no doubt that she is a robot, with her monotone speech, lack of facial expressions and robotic arms. Yet we can’t deny she is talking about sensible topics with an educated point of view and capabilities to make you think, both through her art and through her speech. She might not have her own original thoughts and emotions, but she is programmed with them nevertheless. Ai-Da comes as a great example of the interaction of “real life” and technology, at a time when we are being influenced and changed by technology daily, both in our real and digital lives.

The hidden implications behind intelligent machines like Ai-Da

„In October 2021 Ai-Da and her creator faced a problem as Ai-Da was detained on her way to an exhibition in Egypt. She was invited to the exhibition at the Great Pyramid of Giza as an artist due to the fact that one of her works was being shown there, but upon arrival she was arrested by the authorities. They were concerned about espionage because of Ai-Da’s eyes which are in fact cameras.

Even though Ai-Da is very clear on being an artist and she was never used in any other purpose besides creating art and talking about her art, this setback with the authorities helps us see the various issues that can come up around the use of AI and different new technologies. It is true that in other cases AI could be used for bad purposes like crime or war, and such threats seem very real to us based on current technological capabilities, but also doomsday scenarios from movies and TV shows which have been present in our minds for years.

This is why Ai-Da and similar inventions are priceless. She not only incites conversations about art, creativity and creation, but also about the deeper issues around robots and their growing intelligence and capabilities. Such problems emphasize our need to come together and think about the ethical and moral approach behind creating AI, the security and privacy implications of intelligent machines, as well as the issue of fair use and good representation of these robots or computer programs. If we ignore these hard questions now, we may have a lot of problems in the future – but if we address them as they come up and learn to think in advance, the development and collaboration between AI and humans could have a bright future. „

What lessons can we learn from Ai-Da?

So, let’s go back to the questions we had in the beginning, around robots, emotions and authenticity. Most of us don’t really know the answers to these questions, but maybe this increasing interconnectedness of technology and reality in everyday life is something we should all examine more often and wonder about. Today it’s quite hard to view our lives without the aspect of technology. New innovations and gadgets are all around us, and technology is mixed with all aspects of our reality, especially as AI becomes more and more utilized. It’s important to stay curious and aware, to appreciate technology but always contemplate who or what is behind it, how it works, and what it can bring to us. Examples like Ai-Da show us the great heights AI has been able to reach, but they also help us realize and emphasize the importance of human qualities such as speech, emotions, empathy and our ability to interact and connect with other humans on a deeper, more significant level.

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