Ai-Da is a statement. A sexy statement – and a sexist one – about the coming fusion of art, technology, and caged monkeys.
Let’s say hi to Ai-Da. Aidan Meller, an established gallery director in Oxford, devised Ai-Da and make her come to life.
Ai-Da is the first humanoid robot artist, and this June she opened her first exhibition titled Unsecured Futures. Since when does an algorithm have a gender? Well, the gender question is one of a few queries that I have with Ai-Da.
Ai-Da’s “got a persona, she’s an avatar, she’s fiction, she’s real” proclaims Meller in Economic Times.
Ai-Da is more than just a robot-painter. Unlike Obvious’ algorithm who rocked Christie’s auction last year (you can read about it in my previous post), Ai-Da does sculptures, portraits, and performance art. Or, at least, that’s what the big headlines want us to think she does. Her Unsecured Futures opened at The Barn Gallery of Oxford’s St John’s College and featured “eight drawings, 20 paintings, four sculptures and two video works,” as noted by Reuters.
If you wonder, Ai-Da cannot walk, and her words are dictated by a human operator. Her robotic arm is, however, able to hold a pencil, but she is not able to paint with a brush. And that’s about it.
Why did Meller create Ai-Da? There seems to be more to it than just the sheer joy of playing a part in an AI-art race. On the official Ai-Da website, we can read that
“Our aim is to encourage you to collectively question and develop the ethics of how new technologies are used, (…) to remember those (…) stuck at the bottom of the power ladder; including our ailing environment and captive animals whose voice we barely to listen to. (…). [To] start directing these technologies towards the benefit of all. And don’t forget to include the monkeys in the laboratory cages: the similarities unnerve.”
The issues brought up in the statement explaining the goal of Unsecured Futures are pretty profound. Although many of us feel uncomfortable while challenged with animal testing or the rise of corporate power, Ai-Da doesn’t challenge us. At least, she doesn’t challenge us in the same way. Ai-Da is a thrill, not a threat. As a product of algorithms, hidden under the mask of a female robot without human autonomy, Ai-Da’s abstract art is not rising questions that Unsecured Futures promises to address. So far, Ai-Da is a tool, not a partner or authority. Maybe she is a statement about the power relations where all of us, who are outside the circle of a few privileged, are Ai-Da? I have not visited Unsecured Futures, but from what I know, the direct link between Ai-Da and caged monkeys remains a mystery.
…but all these grand words seem to perish the moment you look at Ai-Da.
Ai-Da is a nice-looking statement. Her computer-generated face is unlike any other. Nonetheless, her full-lips, large eyes, long black hair and tanned skin with a good dose of make-up, could easily make her “a long-lost Kardashian sister,” as writes Naomi Rea in her artnetnews article. Some say that the old saying sex sells in no longer valid, but Ai-Da seems to echo it.
Why female? Meller explains that “A female voice is needed more now than ever and we’re excited and proud of that.” Really.
Ai-Da was named after Victorian computer genius Ada Lovelace, often regarded as a creator of the first algorithm.
Sweet idea, but that’s where female-friendliness ends.
The algorithm that constitutes Ai-Da is a digital object. It is a set of numbers that can be modified and reused. Similarly, Siri and Alexa are digital objects which do not have gender or identity (at least not yet). Nonetheless, Apple, Amazon, and people behind Ai-Da decided that they want their products to have a female face. The fembots or female assistances are not filling in the representation gap, on the contrary, they highlight the ongoing practice of using standardized female features to make a monetary profit.
What’s intriguing here [with Ai-Da] is that people get very taken in by a robot that looks human.
told Time.com Marcus du Sautoy, a professor of mathematics at Oxford University and author of The Creativity Code: How AI Is Learning to Write, Paint and Think.
Let’s take Ai-Da’s appearance as a statement that she is supposed to be. What Ai-Da reveals is an ongoing delusion about AI. So far, algorithms are not autonomous and do not exist in our physical sense. They are designed by biased people with, often, biased data. Ai-Da is an example that an art generating algorithm cannot exist in the general public’s consciousness unless it has a physical presence, preferably consistent with Western standards of beauty.
Artificial intelligence or artificial creativity?
On one hand, Ai-Da is supposed to warn us about the consequences of an airy attitude towards merging what’s human with what’s artificial. On the other, Ai-Da is a good-looking and cool artist. She can create abstract portraits and drawings by looking though her camera eyes, as Meller told Techradar. But is it enough to call her an artist?
On Oxford’s St John’s College website, Ai-Da’s artistry is redefined. Ai-Da’s art is linked to the innovative technological advancement that she stands for. Additionally, her tech-skills are combined with organic vocabulary, e.g. she is not equipped in cameras, she has eyes and sight.
Ai-Da’s ability as a humanoid robot to draw and paint from sight has never been achieved before, and makes Ai-Da an artist in her own right.
“The artwork is very creative” states Meller in the CNN Business video interview on Ai-Da. Soon, he adds, “the algorithmic nature of it means that we don’t actually know what the output is going to be”
So what’s the difference between creativity and serendipity?
Aidan Gomez, an Oxford researcher involved in the making of Ai-Da, told Time.com that Ai-Da is an example of the co-existence of artificial and human creativity. Technology that created Ai-Da, according to Gomez, enabled us
…to expand the achievable horizons of creative expression and to possess its own creative potential as an entity of its own is so fascinating and exciting
Here’s the problem: Ai-Da’s sculptures and paintings are not labeled as “AI&human-made.” But it is Ai-Da who is credited as the artist. In fact, Ai-Da sculptures’ projects go through several different algorithms and are later executed by a Swedish scientist, as you can read on Dezeen. Aidan Gomez, the Oxford researcher, also takes part in creating Ai-Da’s paintings. As Gomez admitted,
[he] plots the co-ordinates of the drawings (…) and runs them through another neural network to create abstract paintings, which are then executed by an actual human female painter, Suzie Emery.
I tried to look for more information regarding Suzie Emery and Ai-Da, yet there wasn’t much at the time I was writing this post.
Thanks to automation, algorithms have been able to create new variations of a digital object without any human involvement. With the rise of AI, algorithms and digital objects (such as Ai-Da or computer games) obtained certain freedom of creation or reaction without the direct human interference. But Ai-Da’s art is not AI-ready-mades because the human involvement in Ai-Da’s artistry is curial. Ai-Da is an investment in exploring the art boundaries where human artists or scientists take algorithm-generated content as inspiration.
Ai-Da could be promoted as an AI artist even if the input of human artists was generally acknowledged, but it isn’t. Why avoid transparency? Who is the caged monkey here?
Ai-Da’s algorithmic nature is only a step in creating ‘her’ paintings or sculptures.
Two layers make up Ai-Da. The first one is the pure PR campaign that focuses on worn-out stereotypes and slogans that has little to do with reality. The second one is the really sexy one; it is the set of questions that Ai-Da’s website rises, Ai-Da’s Twitter account that promotes historic and contemporary female creators, and the overall step to further discussion about the collaboration between Artifical Intelligence and humans.
Apparently, the idea of a female robot who makes art with a little bit of masquerade is still too attractive to resist.
“Meller said that artworks attributed to the machine [Ai-Da] have already brought in more than $1 million.
…and what do you think about Ai-Da? #Share and comment below!
Featured image: “Cyborg Workshop for Advanced Photoshop Magazine” by Oliver Wetter is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0