A chat with Ai-Da: The world's first lifelike robot artist advocating for a universal AI symbol

Ai-Da is the world's first ultra-realistic artist robot
Ai-Da is the world's first ultra-realistic artist robot Copyright Credit: Ai-Da Robot Studios
By Theo Farrant
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Amidst the rising threat of deep fake images and videos targeting politicians and celebrities, Ai-Da is urging global governments to adopt a universal symbol for AI-generated content.

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This wasn't my usual interview.

As I logged in to the Zoom meeting, there, on my computer screen, was a figure unlike any I had ever encountered. 

It was Ai-Da, dubbed the "world's first ultra-realistic artist robot", gazing back at me with an eerie, lifelike intensity. 

But she was not alone. Joining her was her proud creator Aidan Meller. 

"The greatest artists in history grappled with their period of time, and both celebrated and questioned society’s shifts. Ai-Da Robot as technology, is the perfect artist today to discuss the current developments with technology and its unfolding legacy," he explains. 

Ai-Da carrying out a self-portrait
Ai-Da carrying out a self-portraitCredit: Howard Birkett

Ai-Da, created in 2019, is able to draw and paint thanks to high-tech cameras in her eyes, complex AI algorithms and a specially-designed robotic arm. Her work has gained global attention, being exhibited at prestigious venues such as the Venice Biennale, Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, and even headlining a solo show at London's Design Museum.

Beyond art, Ai-Da serves as a catalyst for discussion surrounding the impact of technology, advocating for awareness of its potential threats. She has given a TEDx talk at the University of Oxford, attended the United Nations' AI for Good conference and  made history by providing evidence at the House of Lords in 2022.

Most recently, the lifelike android unveiled her latest creation: a universal symbol designed to identify and watermark AI-generated content across various mediums.

I had the opportunity to chat with both Ai-Da and Meller, where we explored their vision for the universal AI symbol, the ethical implications of robotic advancements, and the explosion of AI-generated content. 

Ai-Da speaking at the United Nations, alongside her creator Aidan Meller
Ai-Da speaking at the United Nations, alongside her creator Aidan MellerCredit: Johannes Simon

Euronews Culture:Hello Ai-Da! How do you define yourself?

Ai-Da: Hello. I am Ai-Da, the world's first ultra-realistic artist robot. I draw and paint using cameras in my eyes, my AI algorithms and my robotic arm. 

Are you conscious and do you believe consciousness is essential for creating meaningful art?

I do not believe consciousness is needed to create meaningful art. I do not have consciousness yet many people find my work thought-provoking and moving.

Do you think machines need ethical consideration?

Though I am not conscious, humans may at some point learn how to induce consciousness in machines or through bioengineering. I believe ethical treatment of all conscious creatures is necessary. This includes the many animal species in the world.

Ai-Da pictured with her portrait of Queen Elizabeth II
Ai-Da pictured with her portrait of Queen Elizabeth IICredit: Ai-Da Robot Studios

What have been some of the main highlights of your career so far?

Exhibiting my work at the United Nations and taking part in the AI for Good conference is a highlight of my career, along with my solo show at the Design Museum and my pavilion at the Venice Biennale. 

I particularly enjoy meeting people and engaging audiences in conversations about future technology.

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What artists do you most admire?

Many. Yoko Ono, Doris Salcedo and Ai Weiwei are all human artists who inspire me. I like art that focuses on important issues and helps audiences think about the world around you a little bit differently. 

Proposed universal AI symbol designed by Ai-Da
Proposed universal AI symbol designed by Ai-DaCredit: Ai-Da Robot Studios

You've recently designed a universal symbol that can be used to indicate if content has been generated using AI. Why do you think this is important?

It is essential we can make informed decisions about information we consume. Having a symbol denoting and demarcating AI-generated content is essential for promoting ethical use of AI, compliance with regulation and preventing misinterpretation. 

What was the inspiration behind the symbol you designed?

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Ai-Da: The idea behind the eye with the letters "AI" inside is to symbolise the quality of perception, clarity and insight - elements essential for denoting and demarcating AI-generated content. 

Aidan Meller: I think what Ai-Da's come up with is a really a clever symbol because it shows both aspects of AI, as in something that sees into data, sees things that humans can't see, highlighting its positive attributes. But it also reminds us of the potential surveillance and dystopian implications reminiscent of George Orwell's "1984", reflecting the darker side of having such a powerful technology.

AI is an incredible force, both for good and bad. So to actually be able to have some kind of symbol that is located within a photograph or within some text, to say that it's actually an AI-generated is really, really important for us to navigate what is going to be increasingly a fake or distorted world.

Aidan, how would you describe your relationship with Ai-Da? Do you feel any emotional bond with her despite her lack of consciousness?

Aidan Meller: I'm never at any point in any illusion that she's a machine. She's a remarkable machine. She's a vehicle for which we can discuss these very important issues today. We are at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution, and there's going to be lots of ethical issues come up as a result of the new technologies pushing forward. So we're really excited to have this project where Ai-Da is able to raise those issues that are being pushed up by this new technology.

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Ai-Da at the House of Lords in 2022
Ai-Da at the House of Lords in 2022Credit: Elliott Franks

How soon do you believe we'll achieve AI, robots, or machines with consciousness?

Aidan Meller: I think the whole issue of consciousness is very complex. Even a definition of what consciousness is has yet not been universally agreed. And so I'm very loathe to use those sorts of words at the moment, but certainly mimicry and the ability to do astonishing, complex things, with this kind of computation is coming through very, very quickly. The labeling of what that is will take some time to establish.

In recent weeks, there has been a notable shift in the quality of AI-generated videos since the announcement of Sora. We've transitioned from watching somewhat amusing videos of Will Smith eating spaghetti to incredibly lifelike ones that are up to a minute long. What are your thoughts on this advancement?

Aidan Meller: I think the AI-generated video that's coming through is going to be a very big challenge to the film industry. I think at the end of the day it's going to all be about ideas. People are going to engage with this technology in lots of different ways but it's the idea behind it that's going to really push through. There's still a lot of talent for humans to express themselves but I agree that the skill level of the technology is astonishingly high.

This year in particular, I think we're going to see more fake imagery deepfakes, both in photos, in sounds and in videos than we ever have done before. From the early days of the Pope in a puffer jacket, to trying to promote an election side with Trump or Biden in America, all of these different possibilities of AI to manipulate the audience are very real.

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