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The Artist in the Machine? Meet 'Ai-Da,' the AI robot debuting her work in London’s Design Museum

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Ai-Da, the artificially intelligent robot, poses next to her self-portrait currently on display in the London Design Museum.
Ai-Da, the artificially intelligent robot, poses next to her self-portrait currently on display in the London Design Museum.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
By Aisling Ní Chúláin  & AP

A portrait from the unconscious mind.

Robots are used in everything from healthcare to space exploration. But now they are making inroads in areas long thought of as uniquely human: art and imagination.

'Ai-Da,' the robot has been specially programmed to be creative and is already showcasing her skills at London’s Design Museum.

The robot is the result of a collaboration between robotics firm 'Engineeered Arts' and experts at the University of Oxford, who developed the AI algorithms.

Ai-Da is able to "see" with the help of cameras in her eyes which connect to a computer vision system. This is then interpreted by an AI algorithm meaning Ai-Da can create a portrait of someone standing before her. The robot has been programmed not to reproduce work so each creation is unique.

There's drawing, there's algorithms, its responses to it, there's photographs, it's whole mission together of very, very different type of techniques. And you're looking through those layers.
Aidan Meller
Gallery director

"The portraits are a combined layering technique," explains Ai-Da’s creator and gallery director, Aidan Meller.

"There's drawing, there's algorithms, its responses to it, there's photographs, it's whole mission together of very, very different type of techniques. And you're looking through those layers."

Ai-Da’s self portraits are on display in the Design Museum and have been created through a blend of the robot's brushstrokes, AI, and some help from the human hand.

"Bringing Ai-Da into the museum and displaying her works, it sort of asks the question of what is creativity? Can a robot create art?” says Priya Khanchandani, who leads curatorial at the museum.

“I think these are questions that we don't overtly ask in day-to-day life, even though we interact with technology all the time".

Video editor • Aisling Ní Chúláin