Meet Ai-Da: the robot artist giving real painters a run for their money


Meet Ai-Da: the robot artist giving real painters a run for their money


Henry Bodkin The Telegraph 2 June 2019
  
Auguste Rodin spent the best part of four decades working on his epic sculpture The Gates of Hell.
The Mona Lisa, by contrast, took Leonardo da Vinci a mere 15 years or so, although it should be noted the Renaissance master never considered the painting finished.
So we can only imagine what those luminaries would think of an up-and-coming Oxford-based contemporary artist who can knock out complex works in under two hours.
Not least because she’s a robot.
Meet Ai-Da, the world’s first robot artist to stage an exhibition, and, according to her creator, every bit as good as many of the abstract human painters working today.
Named in honour of the pioneering female mathematician Ada Lovelace, the artificial intelligence (AI) machine can sketch a portrait by sight, compose a “hauntingly beautiful” conceptual painting rich with political meaning, and is becoming a dab hand sculpting, too.
The humanoid machine can walk, talk and hold a pencil or brush.
But it is Ai-Da’s ability to teach itself new and ever more sophisticated means of creative expression that has set the art world agog.
From a basic set of parameters, such as a photograph of some oak trees, or a bee, the robot has rendered abstract “shattered light” paintings warning of the fragility of the environment that would look at home in a top modern gallery.
“We just can’t predict what she will do, what she’s going to produce, what the limit of her output is,” said Aidan Meller, curator of the Unsecured Futures exhibition which opens at St John’s College, Oxford on June 12.
“We’re at the beginning of a new era of humanoid robots and it will be fascinating to see the effect on art.”
Mr Meller is clear that his goal is not to replace human artists.
Rather, he likens to the rise of AI art to the advent of photography.
“In the 1850s everyone thought photography would replace art and artists, but actually it complemented art - it became a new genre bringing many new jobs,” he said.
He added, however, that within the narrow genre of shattered light abstraction, Ai-Da is producing images “as good as anything else we’ve seen”.
Mr Meller hopes that the interest generated by the robot will encourage public scrutiny of technology and particularly AI.
This includes its sinister potential for the environment, such as the disruption feared to bats and insects caused by the roll-out of the 5G mobile network.
He commissioned Ai-Da two years ago from a robotics firm in Cornwall, meanwhile engineers in Leeds developed the specialist robotic hand, which is governed by coordinates self-plotted on a “Cartesian graph” within the system.

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