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Robot Ai-Da Lovelace pAInts Her Way Into Art History At Design Museum

Ai-Da is a composite persona containing a wide range of AI and computer programmes, robotics, silicone, and human influences and inputs.

The Design Museum in London has a new artist in residence and it’s not human. Ai-Da Lovelace is a life-size humanoid robot named after the pioneering female scientist and mathematician, not to be confused with Linda Lovelace the iconic 1970s adult film star… . Completed in 2019, Ai-Da is designed to create art and uses AI algorithms to produce works that comment on the current and future uses of artificial intelligence.

The exhibition Ai-Da: Portrait of the Robot turns the subject of self-portraiture on its head and questions the nature of human identity and creativity. Ai-Da’s work breaks new ground creating ‘selfies’ of someone who doesn’t have a self.

The exhibition has two world-first innovations: it presents three large scale self-portraits, the first-ever made by an ultra-realistic robot. It also has the world’s first AI font devised by an artist robot to signify language produced by AI language models, raising discussion and ethical questions on the increasing lack of distinguishability between AI-generated text and human-created text.

From 24 May – 6 July 2021, Ai-Da will complete an artist residency at the iconic Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, Cornwall. Working from the former studio of modernist painter Ben Nicholson Ai-Da will create new work inspired by two key figures of the St Ives School, Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth, exploring their artistic approaches and ideas about the use of art for a better future. Using a specially developed AI programme, Ai-Da will produce striking linear images from nylon reminiscent of Gabo’s taught line, like Ai-Da used new technologies and materials. In the spirit of Barbara Hepworth, Ai-Da will also travel out into the Cornish landscape to capture images of the ancient stone sites that hold so much history of the area, which will form the basis of a series of performance films and remarkable granite and tin sculptures. During her residency, Ai-Da will share the Porthmeor Studio space with attendees of the 2021 G7 summit, taking place in St Ives from 11 – 13 June.

There are many examples in the history of the art of artists using the latest technology, from Van Eyck and his pioneering use of oil paints to Naum Gabo and plastics, and David Hockney moving from photocopier to iPad as the technology advanced. As a contemporary artist, Ai-Da’s use of AI fits well into this continuum.

She was devised by Gallery Director Aidan Meller, with academic exploration by Researcher Lucy Seal. She was made by Engineered Arts Ltd and PhD students from the University of Oxford. The programming team is pioneering AI art techniques to produce remarkable reflections on the use of AI and new technologies today.

Lucy Seal, a Project Researcher for Ai-Da Robot, said: “If Ai-Da does just one important thing, it would be to get us considering the blurring in human/machine relations, and encouraging us to think more carefully and more slowly about the choices we make for our future – there are clear advantages that need to be developed and celebrated. However, Orwell and Huxley’s cautionary messages remain relevant and we would do well to take heed.”

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