The world’s first robotic self-portraits, painted by an android called Ai-Da, have been unveiled at a new art exhibit in London, despite the “artist” not having a “self” to portray. The surprisingly accurate images question the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in human society and challenge the idea that art is exclusively a human trait, according to her creators.
Ai-Da is a life-size android artist powered by AI — computer algorithms that mimic the intelligence of humans — that can paint, sculpt, gesture, blink and talk. Ai-Da is designed to look and act like a human woman with a female voice. Her head and torso looks like a mannequin’s and she wears a variety of different dresses and wigs, although a pair of exposed mechanical arms do give her away as robotic. A team of programmers, roboticists, art experts and psychologists from the University of Oxford and the University of Leeds in England spent two years, from 2017 to 2019, developing the android. She is named after Ada Lovelace, the pioneering English mathematician who is considered one of the first computer programmers.
It must be mentioned that Ai-Da did not decide to create the self-portraits; rather, her creators gave those instructions. Indeed, Ai-Da is not self-aware, feeling or conscious, but the accomplishment is still an example of just how far AI and robotics have come and where they could go in the future.
Last month, the 67-year-old artist Salvatore Garau sold an “immaterial sculpture”—which is to say that it doesn’t exist.
To be fair, the artist might disagree on conceptual grounds. For Garau, the artwork, titled Io Sono (which translates to “I am”), finds form in its own nothingness. “The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that nothing has a weight,” he explained. “Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us.”
Lo Sono went up for sale in May at the Italian auction house Art-Rite. The pre-sale estimate valued the piece between €6,000-9,000, but competing bidders pushed the price tag to €15,000.
The lucky buyer went home with a certificate of authenticity and a set of instructions: the work, per Garau, must be exhibited in a private house in a roughly five-by-five-foot space free of obstruction.