Earlier this week, a robot artist spoke before the British Parliament for the first time in history.
Sporting a sleek black bob and bangs, a bright orange shirt, denim overalls, robotic arms and a humanoid face, I-Da, a robot, answered questions from the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee on Tuesday. The purpose of the session was to discuss the role of technology in art.
“I depended on computer programs and algorithms. Even without being alive, I can still create art,” Ai-da told the panel.
Named after British mathematician Ada Lovelace, who is credited with being the first computer programmer, Ai-Da relies on artificial intelligence (AI) to function. The robot was created in 2019 by Aidan Mellor, an expert in modern and contemporary art, along with a team of scientists at the University of Oxford.
The robot artist has painted portraits of subjects ranging from Elizabeth II to Billie Eilish, and its work has been exhibited at the United Nations and the Venice Biennale. Ai-Da also writes poetry using an AI algorithm that processes and synthesizes existing poems to learn about different genres and subjects.
To paint, the robot relies on data from AI algorithms, cameras in its eyes, and mechanical arms designed to handle the paintbrush.
“How it differs from humans is consciousness: I don’t have subjective experiences even though I can talk about them,” the robot told the committee.
On Tuesday we first hear from robot artist I-Da in the House of Lords.
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Mellor, who testified to the committee along with his robot, said he was not endorsing any particular technology. “[Ai-Da] A contemporary art project that really examines the nature of technology today.”
At the start of the session, the committee’s chair, Tina Stowell, issued a clarification: “The robot is giving evidence, but it is not its own witness and it does not occupy the same status as a human being,” she told Mellor. “As its creator you are ultimately responsible [its] Advertisements.”
The session was not without its hiccups. At one point the robot shut down completely and had to reboot. During the reboot, Mellor stuck a pair of sunglasses on Eye-da’s face: “She can pull the most interesting faces sometimes when we reset her,” he joked.
The robot’s mere presence is evocative, a commentary on the way humans think about art and creative forces, and a commentary on its changing effects on culture and consciousness, according to its creators.
Ai-Da helps people “realize the enormous changes that AI is bringing,” Meller said Sky News‘ Gemma Peplow before the hearing. “And AI is coming faster than anyone can imagine—it’s no exaggeration to say that AI is going to change all aspects of life.”
AI technology is already making waves in the art world. AI image generators can create stunning artwork based on text prompts, even copying the styles of famous artists. Earlier this summer, a piece made with AI won first place in the Colorado State Fair’s digital arts competition.
“The role of technology in creating art will continue to grow,” Ai-D told the committee, “as artists find new ways to use technology to express themselves and to reflect and explore the relationship between technology, society and culture.”
After all, Robot adds, “technology can be both a threat and an opportunity for artists.”