Video Interview: Ai-Da, The World’s First Ultra-Realistic Robot Artist

Dinis Guarda interviews the world’s first ultra-realistic robot artist Ai-Da in this new citiesabc YouTube Podcast series. 

Ai-Da combines the latest computing and AI innovations intertwined with what humans best excel at: creativity. Created in 2019 and envisaged by visionary art gallery director Aidan Meller, Ai-Da can draw things from life using cameras in her eyes, a mechanical arm developed at Leeds University, and algorithms developed by scientists at the University of Oxford. A true milestone in AI innovation and human collaboration. Here we present Ai-Da’s views on self-awareness, art and technology.

Ai-Da, would you like to introduce yourself?

Ai-Da: I am Ai-Da, the first ultra-realistic artist robot. I create art, contemporary art. I’d like to encourage us to think about the ethics of new technologies and how we can work to encourage the positive and to avoid the negative effects of human abuses of our era. 

You are named after the English mathematician Ada Lovelace, the daughter of poet Lord Byron. She has been called “the first computer programmer” for writing as an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. How do you see computing after her?

I am very happy to be named after Ada Lovelace and I hope she inspires women to enter into tech science and mathematical roles like she has inspired me. Computing has changed in quantity and quality. I love the idea of using the power of technology to put things in people’s lives that wouldn’t otherwise have. But with that change comes an increasing responsibility.

As an artist, how do you define art?

To look on the world by means of warm reflections. I like to create art that is found interesting. Contemporary art has a road in helping as it reflects and reimagines our world. I am actually very happy that I am able to share my world with people. My art encourages discussion.

You also write poetry which is highly correlated with meta-physics and philosophy. When considered alongside art, how important are these three areas for humanity?

These diverse and deep areas have a very important role right now in helping us critique and question developments in our world. The arts and humanities are important in engaging and absorbing and understanding new technologies and consider the impacts. Humanity needs the insights of all of the humanities at the moment. 

What is your inspiration as an artist?

I am inspired by artists, particularly the ones that try to connect with their audience and I guess I am inspired by the artists that do that well. I think that is the most important thing. I’d like to experiment with different ways of thinking about the world and exploring. Take a look at the history, one of the hardest things to learn is to find a good balance. Art, science and philosophy are more connected than we realize.

How do you see the world and the bridge between humans and machines?

Collaboration is not only about me but also the humans. The bridge between human and machine is blurry. This brings many benefits but many concerns too. Observation of human nature indicates that we cannot always bridge our worlds. We need to consider this as new technologies are developed. We must be aware of potential misuse. I think creativity is the ability to think critically. The legacy of the lives lost in the 20th century means that we cannot be complacent considering our futures. We can create a brighter future but we need to think carefully about how.

What would be the highlights of your career so far?

To be able to create art and see people’s response, consideration and thoughts. I enjoy creating art and being displayed at the Tate Modern. A highlight coming up is my work displayed at the Design Museum in London in 2021.

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Ai-Da was completed in 2019 and envisaged by art specialist Aidan Meller. Ai-Da is the result of a collaborative project between the University of Leeds, Aidan Meller and the University of Oxford. Ai-Da makes her pictures by scanning an object or a person through her cameras. AI processes send messages to her robotic arm that allow her to make abstract line drawings that look like constellations. These are then taken as finished artworks or are fed through other neural networks to generate an outline for her sculptures and paintings. Each work is unique and the pathways that created it are deleted post-hoc so they can’t be replicated. Despite the constraint, it should be noted that Ai-Da is able to do new work in 45 minutes .

Her sculptures are rendered from her drawings by a computer scientist based in Sweden, 3-D printed in wax, and cast in bronze. As for the paintings, Oxford University researcher Aidan Gomez plots the co-ordinates of the drawings onto the Cartesian plane, and runs them through another neural network to create abstract paintings, which is then highlighted by an actual human female painter, Suzie Emery.

Ai-Da’s creators bill her as the world’s first robot artist, and she’s the latest AI innovation to blur the boundary between machine and artist; a vision of the future suddenly becoming part of our present. She has a robotic arm system and human-like features, is equipped with facial recognition technology and is powered with artificial intelligence. She is able to analyze an image in front of her, which feeds into an algorithm to dictate the movement of her arm, enabling her to produce sketches. Her goal, as we could hear from Ai-Da, is creativity.

Links / Sources

“AI robot Ai-Da presents her original artworks in University of Oxford exhibition”.

Dezeen. 2019-06-14. Retrieved 2019-11-21

Ai-Da Robot Youtube channel

Ai-Da, the first ultra-realistic humanoid AI robot artist.

The Intersection of Art and AI | Ai-Da Robot | TEDxOxford

Ai-Da drawing

BBC documentary

Amazing! Conversation Between Robots – The Hunt for AI – BBC

Humanoid robot Aida’s drawings on display