AI-Powered Robot Can Draw Portraits From Sight... And it Has an Upcoming Exhibition
The word "create" comes from the Latin verb creare, which means "to make, bring forth, produce, procreate, beget, cause." Humans have long regarded creation as an organic process: the domain of nature and humanity as an extension of nature. A computer can be programmed to draw a picture, or even form an image of a person that doesn't exist, but it does so by assimilating huge quantities of human-created and human-fed data and mimicking what has already come before.
Of course, that's exactly how humans create. We assimilate data and we produce work that, at least to some degree, mimics what we have seen. If a robot or computer isn't conscious – if it is not self-aware, if it lacks intent, if it doesn't possess a will of its own – can it actually said to be creating something?
A new AI-powered robot is raising that question. Ai-Da is a humanoid robot that can draw from sight. According to CNN, the robot is named after Ada Lovelace, a 19th century mathematician whom many consider to be the first computer programmer. Beyond just being able to draw portraits based on what it sees in real time – and this is an important distinction, as this is not a case of a robot taking a photograph of someone and then drawing it – Ai-Da does so compellingly enough to have an upcoming exhibition at Oxford University. If that's not enough, "her" creators seem to be ambivalent about whether or not their creation is real and what, if anything, the purpose of Ai-Da is.
In the announcement for the exhibition on the Ai-Da Robot website, they seem to stake a claim for a more responsible approach to technology writing that,
"Ai-Da is a mechanical robot, she is not real and has no thoughts and feelings, but she foretells a period when trans-human biotechnology could be possible. Humans are confident in their position as the most powerful species on the planet, but how far do we actually want to take this power? To a Brave New World (Nightmare)? And if we use new technologies to enhance the power of the few, we had better start safeguarding the future of the many. History shows the treatment of the vulnerable isn't that pretty, and arguably right now we need to be thinking much more closely about the potential for inequality and suffering that is embedded within the use of new technologies."
This sentiment is complicated by the opacity of the language: it's unclear who they're expressing concern for. Is it a potential underclass of robots? Those who are left out of technology because of economic conditions? Humans in general? This would seem less conflicted and odd were it not for the use of the gender pronouns "her" and "she" throughout the paradoxical description of this robot who "is not real and has no thoughts or feelings" but is also described in a YouTube video as having an artistic style "influenced by the breakthroughs in portraiture from the early twentieth century including the expressionist and cubist movements."
We'll leave it for the reader to decide.
Ai-Da's exhibition "Unsecured Futures" runs from June 12 - July 6, 2019 at The Barn Gallery, St John's College, University of Oxford.