Home Foreign Jurisdiction A Robot Testified at Britain’s House of Lords — Then had a...

A Robot Testified at Britain’s House of Lords — Then had a Breakdown


A robot sporting dungarees and a sharp black bob took questions in Britain’s House of Lords for the first time in history this week — before appearing to fall asleep and requiring a reset.

Before her public breakdown, the female-featured android — named Ai-Da — spoke to Britain’s Communications and Digital Committee as part of an inquiry into the future of the creative industries, joining a debate on how technology is shaping — and perhaps hindering — the art sector.

It was the first time in the nation’s history that a robot testified in the upper chamber of Britain’s Parliament, where unelected baronesses and lords typically gather to analyze government policies.

“The fact that Ai-Da is giving evidence at one of these sessions is pretty mind-blowing,” Aidan Meller, the robot’s inventor and a specialist in modern and contemporary art, told Sky News ahead of the session.

Branded “the world’s first ultrarealistic humanoid robot artist,” Ai-Da is widely known for creating portraits and poems, using a robotic arm, cameras in her eyes and AI algorithms. She told the house — undoubtedly to her creator’s pride — that the unique features allow her to create “visually appealing images.”

“I am, and depend on, computer programs and algorithms,” Ai-Da told the committee in London on Tuesday, moving her head slowly from side to side and occasionally blinking. “Although not alive, I can still create art.”

Ai-Da admitted she has no idea where the world is headed but told committee members that technology poses both “a threat and an opportunity” for creativity.

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“The role of technology in creating art will continue to grow,” she predicted.

Those in attendance appeared intrigued but also joked that they were scared — especially when, following a question from Baroness Lynne Featherstone, a peer from the Liberal Democrats party, the robot fell silent and stared blankly at the floor.

“I’ve sent her to sleep!” Featherstone joked, as Meller, who was on hand close by, hurried across the room to grab a pair of sunglasses to place over Ai-Da’s eyes.

“Excuse me,” he told the room. “Can I reset her? Is that okay?”

It was not immediately clear what caused the robot’s technical failure, and neither Meller nor Ai-Da responded to a request for comment from The Washington Post on Thursday.

“When we reset her, she sometimes can pull quite interesting faces,” Meller explained to those in attendance, who chuckled and waited patiently for the android to wake up.

Created in 2019, Ai-Da has been subjected to backlash at home and abroad during her short, simulated life.

Last year, she was taken into custody in Egypt for more than a week on suspicion that she could be part of an espionage plot, according to Meller.

Meller said Egyptian border guards detained her because of security fears about the cameras in her eyes that enabled her to paint. The British ambassador stepped in to secure her freedom, he said.

“I can’t really gouge her eyes out,” he told the Guardian at the time. “Let’s be really clear about this. She is not a spy.”

She was released in time to take part in an exhibition at Egypt’s pyramids.

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To mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II earlier this year, Ai-Da produced a portrait of the late monarch entitled “Algorithm Queen.” Her owner hailed the creation as the first painting of the queen by a robot, while critics said the piece lacked emotion.

Jonathan Jones, the Guardian’s art critic, slammed Ai-D’s portrait as “yet another example of the cynical, transparent con that is AI art.”

Washington Post


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