Aidan Meller introduces Ai-Da, a sketching robot who is both an artist and a work of art.

Photo of Ai-Da and Aidan Meller

Ai-Da is an ultra-realistic robot, named after the first computer programmer Ada Lovelace. She has a specially developed drawing arm, programmed using artificial intelligence (AI). This enables her to draw portraits and sketches that look similar to human sketches.

The point of the project is to encourage more in-depth ethical discussions over new technologies in a creative and playful way

I am one of 'the Oxfordians', a group of artists, technicians and professionals of various disciplines, and have been the project manager behind Ai-Da. She has been designed and made by a robotics company in Cornwall. Her facial appearance was designed by a digital artist based in Sweden, while her robotic drawing arm and its AI software was designed and developed in Leeds.

Project aims

The point of the project is to encourage more in-depth ethical discussions over new technologies in a creative and playful way. We believe the role of contemporary art is to help us question the world around us and to highlight insights we might normally miss. Ai-Da is very eye-catching, and we hope to bring more serious issues to audiences through her engaging persona.

An artwork herself, Ai-Da takes on the role of artist by drawing portraits of humans, animals and landscapes, and her performance art makes a nod to political and environmental causes. As an example of contemporary art, and as a contemporary artist, we want Ai-Da to engage audiences and encourage them to look again at the world and our future.

Ai-Da and art

Ai-Da is the central part of the movement because she can communicate our artistic messages on many levels. She can be physically present in a gallery or public exhibition, and broadcast around the world using the internet.

She is a humanoid AI robot, with an arm that draws images from an in-built camera. Currently her medium is pencil and pen, and she creates sketches like a human using facial recognition technology to draw human faces. In time, she will use paint and also clay to create pottery pieces. She is also a performance artist who takes part in art performances and art videos. And she reads aloud using her own personal computerised voice.

Early responses

We originally intended Ai-Da to feature mainly in the art world, but the media response has made us realise she has widespread cross-cultural appeal. This will impact our medium- and long-term plans. We will be developing ways to reach wider audiences than we originally planned, and identifying ways to develop her educational potential. It would be wonderful to get her travelling and meeting a wide range of people and social groups, to engage with people on the issues of our future that face us all.

Aidan Meller is Director of Aidan Meller Galleries.

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