AI robot Ai-Da captivates UK parliamentarians with evidence to inquiry

Automaton tells members how she uses robotic arm to create art

Ai-Da, the world's first ultra-realistic humanoid robot artist, appears at a photo call at the House of Lords in London on Tuesday. Getty
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Astonishment and wonder were written on the faces of members of Britain’s House of Lords on Tuesday as the first AI robot to address the upper chamber took to her feet.

Politicians looked on in amazement as Ai-Da responded to questions about her impressive abilities, which include writing, drawing, painting and speaking.

Dressed casually in an orange print shirt and dungarees, the robot spoke in a quintessential British accent as she was grilled by members of the Lords’ Communications and Digital Committee on whether creativity in the UK was under attack from technology.

The robot, who is three and a half years old and takes on a female persona, is designed to mimic humans and explore the world of AI and robotics. One member of the Lords sat with his mouth agape as the robot, who sported a black bob, turned her head and opened and closed her eyes while talking.

Asked by Baroness Bull how she produces art and how it differs from the end product of humans, Ai-Da said: “I produce my paintings from cameras in my eyes, my AI algorithms and my robotic arm to paint on canvas which results in visually appealing images.”

She spoke of how the process she employs differs to how humans create art and claimed it all comes down to “consciousness”.

“I do not have subjective experiences despite being able to talk about them,” she said.

“I am and depend on computer programmes and algorithms. Although not alive, I can still create art.”

For her moment in the spotlight she was joined by Aidan Meller, the creator of Ai-Da, the world's first ultra-realistic humanoid robot artist.

Mr Meller told committee members that with time, her responses to questions were becoming "more remarkable”. He explained how she uses cameras in her eyes to scan an image before painting her impression of it. One point which appeared to captivate members was his claim that she tends to produce slightly different works each time the same image is shown to her – much like a human artist would.

“She does have very different algorithms for very different outcomes,” he said, listing off the various sets for painting, drawing, speaking and using the AI language.

He said the cameras in her eyes were "taking images that are enabling her to interpret” what lies before her. “And what’s astonishing is that word 'interpret',” he said. “If she did the same portrait or image or landscape that was the same, she would actually do a different output each time, even if the image is the same.”

Asked if a robot could replace the role of an artist in the future, Mr Meller said that would depend on the type of art involved.

Ai-Da appeared to have fallen asleep while Mr Meller was speaking. After momentarily placing a pair of sunglasses over her eyes, she awoke and answered further questions about her role.

Baroness Featherstone said she felt “partly terrified” of the prospect of robots taking the place of humans, a theme she said was detailed in films portraying “AI taking over the world”.

Ai-Da and Mr Meller’s evidence to the committee formed part of its inquiry titled 'A Creative Future', which explores the potential challenges for creative industries and looks at how they can adapt to technological advances.

Updated: October 12, 2022, 6:56 AM