Meet Ai-Da, world’s first robot artist

OXFORD: Billed as "one of the most exciting artists of our time", Ai-Da differs from generations of past masters in one inescapable way: she is a robot.

Ai-Da is the brainchild of Aidan Meller, who claims she is the world’s first ultra-realistic humanoid artist, able to draw creatively thanks to in-built artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

The 46-year-old art dealer unveiled Ai-Da — dressed in a brown wig and period-style painter's blouse — in Oxford on Wednesday, ahead of an exhibition of her first works opening next week in the English university city. “She is fully algorithmic... fully creative,” Meller said.

As he spoke, an occasionally blinking Ai-Da, built with cameras for eyes and a robotic arm to draw with, worked on a sketch of him. Forty-five minutes later, a delicate expressionist drawing of Meller emerged.

Several dozen of Ai-Da’s other works adorned the nearby walls. They include similarly styled pencil sketches of historical figures from Leonardo da Vinci to Alan Turing.

There are also colourful paintings and sculptures based on her initial sketches, completed by human assistants. Ai-Da can currently only hold certain hard tools like pencils, not brushes.

Meller, also an art gallery director, first dreamed up Ai-Da — named after Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician and writer often called the world’s first computer coder — eight years ago. But he only began seriously working on the project in 2017.

Reasoning that the coming age of AI was today’s equivalent, Meller set about creating a robotic artist to fuse his ideas into one artistic endeavour. With the help of British robotics company Engineered Arts, and researchers at both Leeds and Oxford universities, Ai-Da was finally completed in April.

Meller was eager for her to adopt a female persona because he argued art and coding worlds need more women represented.

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