As It Happens

Ai-Da the artificial intelligence robot is hosting her 1st solo art exhibit

Is Ai-Da the "ultra-realistic AI humanoid robot" an artist, or she the actually the art itself? The answer to both questions is yes.

'Ai-Da is the artwork,' says creator Aidan Meller, 'Ai-Da is creating the artwork'

A picture shows the face of Ai-Da the AI humanoid robot artist during a launch event of its first solo exhibition in Oxford, England. (Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images)
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Is Ai-Da the robot an artist, or she actually the art itself? 

"Ai-Da is the artwork. Ai-Da is creating the artwork," British gallery curator Aidan Meller told As It Happens host Carol Off. "There's many questions her identity brings up."

Ai-Da — billed as "the world's first ultra-realistic AI humanoid robot artist" — opens her first solo exhibition this week at St John's College in Oxford, England.

People will be able to check out her algorithm-generated body of work that includes eight drawings, 20 paintings, four sculptures and two videos.

'Uncanny valley'

And, of course, they'll also get to see Ai-Da herself — a robot with the face of a young woman with long brown hair.

"She absolutely is uncanny valley to see her. She does look human in her face," Meller said.

"With face recognition, she is able to look at you when you walk into the room and, in actual fact, she even follows you as you go across the room. So it is slightly unnerving when you first see her."

The rubberized head of Ai-Da is painstakingly given lifelike features by Mike Humphrey, a specialist at robotics company Engineered Arts. (Matthew Stock/Reuters)

In fact, it's those eyes that function as the lens of Ada's work. 

Named after British mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, Ai-Da can draw from sight thanks to cameras in her eyeballs and AI algorithms created by scientists at the University of Oxford that help produce co-ordinates for her arm to create art.

"The technology is incredible when you actually realize what is going on," Meller said.

She uses a pencil or pen for sketches, but the plan is for Ai-Da to paint and create pottery. Her paint works now are printed onto canvas with a human painting over.

But Ai-Da doesn't just replicate what she sees — she interprets it.

Even if she were to draw the same subject over and over, she would produce a different artwork every time, Meller said.

"We realized that if we just do a tight representational drawing, people would just dismiss it as some kind of, I don't know, expensive printer or something like that," Meller said.

"We do not quite know how the output is going to be when she does a drawing. We just felt that she needed to have a expressive style."

British gallery owner Aidan Meller looks at paintings created using computer vision data recorded by Ai-Da. (Matthew Stock/Reuters)

If the idea of AI artist makes you feel confused, uncomfortable or even indignant, Meller says that's the point.

AI is already a major part of the technology that impacts our daily lives, he says, and viewing it through an artistic lens gives us an opportunity to wrestle openly with some of its thornier ethical implications. 

"We're doing it because we're actually very, very concerned about the use and abuse of AI, Meller said.

"When big technology gets into the hands of the few ... it could have a very damaging effect on the world."

But if the point of Ai-Da is to explore the wider ramifications of artificial intelligence, why bother making her look human? 

"When you look at an artwork, you always do it through the lens of the artist. When you look at a Picasso, you think of Picasso," Meller said.

"So to actually have this idea of the other, a non-human, a robot that has a view on the human world, actually to have a persona is actually essential to how you view the artwork. "

Meller, speaks during a press conference during a demonstration at a launch event for the Ai-Da exhibition. (Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images)

And it helps, he admitted, that she's kind of pretty.

"It's a really good way of just grabbing people's attention."

The exhibition opens on June 12 at the Barn Gallery at St John's College, and Ai-Da's art is already sold out.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview with Aidan Meller produced by Sarah Cooper and Alison Broverman.

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