Remarkable, eh? *ETA December 17, 2021 0910: I’m sorry about the big blank space and can’t figure out how to fix it.*
Who is Ai-Da?
Thank you to the contributor(s) of the Ai-Da (robot) Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
Ai-Da was invented by gallerist Aidan Meller, in collaboration with Engineered Arts, a Cornish robotics company. Her drawing intelligence was developed by computer AI researchers at the University of Oxford, and her drawing arm is the work of engineers based in Leeds.
Ai-Da has her own website here (from the homepage),
Ai-Da is the world’s first ultra-realistic artist robot. She draws using cameras in her eyes, her AI algorithms, and her robotic arm. Created in February 2019, she had her first solo show at the University of Oxford, ‘Unsecured Futures’, where her [visual] art encouraged viewers to think about our rapidly changing world. She has since travelled and exhibited work internationally, and had her first show in a major museum, the Design Museum, in 2021. She continues to create art that challenges our notions of creativity in a post-humanist era.
Ai-Da – is it art?
The role and definition of art changes over time. Ai-Da’s work is art, because it reflects the enormous integration of technology in todays society. We recognise ‘art’ means different things to different people.
Today, a dominant opinion is that art is created by the human, for other humans. This has not always been the case. The ancient Greeks felt art and creativity came from the Gods. Inspiration was divine inspiration. Today, a dominant mind-set is that of humanism, where art is an entirely human affair, stemming from human agency. However, current thinking suggests we are edging away from humanism, into a time where machines and algorithms influence our behaviour to a point where our ‘agency’ isn’t just our own. It is starting to get outsourced to the decisions and suggestions of algorithms, and complete human autonomy starts to look less robust. Ai-Da creates art, because art no longer has to be restrained by the requirement of human agency alone.
It seems that Ai-Da has branched out from visual art into poetry. (I wonder how many of the arts Ai-Da can produce and/or perform?)
A divine comedy? Dante and Ai-Da
The 700th anniversary of poet Dante Alighieri’s death has occasioned an exhibition, DANTE: THE INVENTION OF CELEBRITY, 17 September 2021–9 January 2022, at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.
Professor Gervase Rosser (University of Oxford), exhibition curator, wrote this in his September 21, 2021 exhibition essay “Dante and the Robot: An encounter at the Ashmolean”,
Ai-Da, the world’s most modern humanoid artist, is involved in an exhibition about the poet and philosopher, Dante Alighieri, writer of the Divine Comedy, whose 700th anniversary is this year. A major exhibition, ‘Dante and the Invention of Celebrity’, opens at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum this month, and includes an intervention by this most up-to-date robot artist.
Honours are being paid around the world to the author of what he called a Comedy because, unlike a tragedy, it began badly but ended well. From the darkness of hell, the work sees Dante journey through purgatory, before eventually arriving at the eternal light of paradise. What hold does a poem about the spiritual redemption of humanity, written so long ago, have on us today?
One challenge to both spirit and humanity in the 21st century is the power of artificial intelligence, created and unleashed by human ingenuity. The scientists who introduced this term, AI, in the 1950s announced that ‘every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can, in principle, be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it’.
Over the course of a human lifetime, that prophecy has almost been realised. Artificial intelligence has already taken the place of human thought, often in ways of which are not apparent. In medicine, AI promises to become both irreplaceable and inestimable.
But to an extent which we are, perhaps, frightened to acknowledge, AI monitors our consumption patterns, our taste in everything from food to culture, our perception of ourselves, even our political views. If we want to re-orientate ourselves and take a critical view of this, before it is too late to regain control, how can we do so?
Creative fiction offers a field in which our values and aspirations can be questioned. This year has seen the publication of Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which evokes a world, not many years into the future, in which humanoid AI robots have become the domestic servants and companions of all prosperous families.
One of the book’s characters asks a fundamental question about the human heart, ‘Do you think there is such a thing? Something that makes each of us special and individual?’
Art can make two things possible: through it, artificial intelligence, which remains largely unseen, can be made visible and tangible and it can be given a prophetic voice, which we can choose to heed or ignore.
These aims have motivated the creators of Ai-Da, the artist robot which, through a series of exhibitions, is currently provoking questions around the globe (from the United Nations headquarters in Geneva to Cairo, and from the Design Museum in London [UK] to Abu Dhabi) about the nature of human creativity, originality, and authenticity.
In the Ashmolean Museum’s Gallery 8, Dante meets artificial intelligence, in a staged encounter deliberately designed to invite reflection on what it means to see the world; on the nature of creativity; and on the value of human relationships.
The juxtaposition of AI with the Divine Comedy, in a year in which the poem is being celebrated as a supreme achievement of the human spirit, is timely. The encounter, however, is not presented as a clash of incompatible opposites, but as a conversation.
This is the spirit in which Ai-Da has been developed by her inventors, Aidan Meller and Lucy Seal, in collaboration with technical teams in Oxford University and elsewhere. Significantly, she takes her name from Ada Lovelace [emphasis mine], a mathematician and writer who was belatedly recognised as the first programmer. At the time of her early death in 1852, at the age of 36, she was considering writing a visionary kind of mathematical poetry, and wrote about her idea of ‘poetical philosophy, poetical science’.
For the Ashmolean exhibition, Ai-Da has made works in response to the Comedy. The first focuses on one of the circles of Dante’s Purgatory. Here, the souls of the envious compensate for their lives on earth, which were partially, but not irredeemably, marred by their frustrated desire for the possessions of others.
My first thought on seeing the inventor’s name, Aidan Meller, was that he named the robot after himself; I did not pick up on the Ada Lovelace connection. I appreciate how smart this is especially as the name also references AI.
Finally, the excerpts don’t do justice to Rosser’s essay; I recommend reading it if you have the time.