Ai-Da At The House Of Lords
Written by David Conrad   
Sunday, 16 October 2022

In the venerable surroundings of the Palace of Westminster,  Ai-Da became the first robot to give evidence to a House of Lords committee. Proceeding were held up for a few minutes for Ai-Da to be rebooted, a timely reminder that she is indeed a machine without any humanity, despite looking human.

Together with her creator Aidan Miller, Ai-Da answered questions put to her by members of the Communications and Digital Committee as part of its A Creative Future inquiry, which sets out to examine the future of the UK’s creative industries and how AI could impact the sector.

Appearing before the committee in her usual garb of a denim boiler suit, Ai-Da stood during the proceedings, which singled her out from "normal" evidence givers. The fact that she "fell asleep" during the session was possibly less unusual. No other committee members nodded off on this occasion and Ai-Da was rebooted in order to continue answering questions. 

AiDa HouseofLords

The questions put to Ai-Da had been pre-submitted to ensure "better quality answers"  and as she responded to the first of them,  put to her by Baroness Bull, about how she produces art  Ai-da gave her standard response:

“I produce my paintings by cameras in my eyes, my AI algorithms and AI robotic arm to paint on canvas, which results in visually appealing images.” 



With her head turning from right to left and back Ai-Da seemed very much the robot. However the committee seemed to be impressed with Lady Featherstone stating: 

“I am actually partly terrified by what you’ve been saying, because from someone who knows very little about this field, this feeds into all the films about AI taking over the world. [Ai-Da is] so sophisticated compared to what I thought we were going to see today."

Aiden Miller's responses to spontaneous questions were much more convincing than Ai-Da's. Asked whether he though Ai-Da could be capable of a "light-bulb" moment of creativity, Miller referred to the type of breakthrough achieved by Alpha Go and  said he thought that such light-bulb moments would happen in both the visual arts and musical arts and that such moments were in fact happening.

Replying to a committee member who suggested that a suitable title for the report that would be produced in due course should be "Creative Industries Hype or Reality" Miller said that there was a lot of hype, due in part to Hollywood's contribution, there were also great strides in AI and that while AI would remove some job opportunities it would create new ones that hadn't as yet even been imagined.

One of Miller's most telling answers came in reply to a question from Lord Young about whether Ai-Da could understand empathy when he pointed out that:

"she does not understand full stop, therefore the idea of her understanding empathy, we don't even get there because she doesn't understand."

When Lord Young replaced "understand" with "possess", Miller clarified:

"I think there's a lot of projection onto these technologies. ..To see the responses that people give her - we've started to ask the camera [crew] to video the people looking at  Ai-Da because their responses are so great and in very, very different ways, complete Marmite - they either love seeing her and get super excited or they think 'Oh my gosh its terrible we must destroy her'. 

So [there is] empathy from Ada to us but currently I haven't seen any convincing technology [that provides evidences of a machine's empathy. Our reaction to Ai-Da is that we [humans] are very [sic] reactional.

The next question came from Lord Hall and was directed to Ai-Da He greeted her "Hello Ai-Da" and received a natural sounding "Hello there" in response. She did however revert to a pre-prepared speech is answering his question:

"What are the limits of technology in creating art?"

"Art can be many things from a painting or drawing to a performance of poem. My art practice includes all of the above. When it comes to traditional art practices some people say that technology cannot be used in traditional art practices but other believe that it can be valuable. Because art is often up to interpretation, the role of the audience is key. In general, contemporary artists often seek to engage with their audiences and create a dialogue about important issues or ideas. So long as technology remains an important topic of discussion in society there are not many limits to how it can be used in a contemporary art setting."

This prompted Lord Hall to suggest that there was a role for AI in:

helping artists to create, much as painter's workshops helped painters to do extraordinary things.

Miller's statement near the end of the session reveals the Ai-Da paradox and is an important takeaway:

"I do want to be clear that Ai-Da is very confusing. On some level it is a deception because you think she looks like a human. She isn't a human, she's a machine. We're fully aware of that as a project.  We're not trying to pretend anything here - we are really trying to do it as mirror and say 'look this is confusing because in the world it's confusing' and [Ai-Da] is trying to mirror that confusion" 

This led nicely into the final question from the committee chair, Baroness Stowell, who said:

"You said at the start that one of the reasons for commencing this project and creating Ai-Da was to provoke - an act of provocation. Do you feel that the reaction you are getting ... is in line with what you expected or not?" 

His reponse was: 

"Creativity is not restricted to subjective internal conscious brain processes. Creativity can very much be done very well by AI in lots of remarkable ways. It can be studied and mimicked, and that is a game changer - in that it can study and mimic human processes super well. It is a tearing away of realizing that actually creativity is not subjective internal conscious brain processes and suddenly realizing that something that we've has so fundamental to our own identity, we're now going into a world where that is now clearly demonstrated as not being . It's no longer just humans and AI machine learning is going to be very capable  at language, at image creation. music creation. We are going into a world where those processes are going to be mimicked extraordinarily well.

... people are realizing that we are going into a world of non-huiman creativity. That is a reality we are facing now and it really is for us all to engage with."

So there we have it - the Ai-Da project is, as I argued almost three years ago, a delusion. Despite referring to "her" as "she", she has no humanity, sensitivity, empathy or even understanding. She is remarkably good at mimicry - be it languages or painting or poetry - but the response from the audience is down to perception and projection.

More Information

Ai-Da website

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