Android artist’s show makes over £1 million

Ai-da: “A gimmick that has no bearing on the quality of art produced,” said The Telegraph reviewer.

Can robots create art? One AI artist created by Oxford scientists has just completed her first solo exhibition and sold over £1 million worth of paintings. But some say it isn’t real art.

Ai-Da is an Oxford-based artist whose debut exhibition, Unsecured Futures at Oxford University’s St John’s College, is ending tomorrow.

By all accounts, it has been an astonishing success. “It has been a sold-out show with over a million pounds worth of artworks sold,” says Aidan Meller, who runs the gallery.

But Ai-Da is an artist with a difference. She’s a robot, named after computer pioneer Ada Lovelace.

Unlike previous attempts to involve artificial intelligence (AI) in art, Ai-Da draws by “looking” at her subject without any human input.

Ai-Da’s “eye” scans any object to gather information. Her robotic arm uses the data to create a pencil drawing.

But are Ai-Da’s creations really art? Is she the artist, or is the human responsible for her programming the real artist?

Rui Penha and Miguel Carvalhais, two Portuguese music professors, believe even the most advanced robots are only very complicated tools. It might seem like Ai-Da is painting a work of art, but she is actually only responding to commands.

We will never be able to empathise with an android artist because we have no idea what it’s like to be a machine.

I see, therefore I am?

Whether or not you agree with Penha and Carvalhais might reveal a lot about what you think art actually is. People who think it depends on the way it looks believe that, as long as androids create something beautiful, we can engage with it just like any other artwork.

But if you think an artist’s reasons for creating a piece of art helps us to appreciate it, you might argue that, if androids don’t think like us, we’ll never be able to understand their ideas. If we don’t understand them, their art will always remain meaningless and without value.

You Decide

  1. What makes something art?

Activities

  1. As a class, pick artworks by three famous artists and think about what motivated the artists. What do you think they were feeling, or wanted to say? Write down your ideas and discuss with a partner.

Some People Say...

“Working with AI has made me appreciate the human body: we’re such amazing sensors. Our eyes and ears and all this stuff you can’t encapsulate in a media file.”

Holly Herndon, US composer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
So far, even the most advanced AI need help from humans to guide it as it teaches itself. Ai-Da might change her painting style, or Spawn might improve its singing, but it will always rely on humans to guide the software, manage the data and correct mistakes.
What do we not know?
Whether a machine that doesn’t need a human trainer will have “consciousness” (being aware of the world around them) like humans. If we do ever have conscious machines, we have no idea what their experience of the world will be like.

Word Watch

Debut
First.
Pioneer
To be the first, or one of the first, to develop something.
Ada Lovelace
19th-century, English mathematician who worked on the Analytical Engine. She realised it could be used for more than just calculation — making it the first-ever computer.
Empathise
To understand and share the feelings of someone else.
Androids
A robot or artificial being designed to look like a human.

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