The Ai-Da Delusion - Machines Don't Have Souls
Written by David Conrad   
Saturday, 28 December 2019

There are some news items from the past year that deserve a second chance. Here we have one such - a new robot con is on the rise - the robot artist that is personified by its promoters to fool the gullible. Meet Ai-Da, a toy with some software designed to be taken seriously by people who should know better.

(From 2019-02-17)



First we had Sophia, a robot that we could pretend was a human if we tried hard enough. Then some enterprising "artists" borrowed someone else's algorithm and sold the resulting "artwork" for big bucks. It is one of the perennial problems of AI that people will try to pretend that it is more than it is to make some quick cash or some publicity. The latest outrage is Ai-Da - supposedly named in honor of Ada Lovelace ,but it is more of publicity stunt than an honor.

Billed as "the world's first humanoid AI artist" the hype gets ever more from this point on. The machine is always referred to as "her" and spoken of as if it was a creative human with unlimited potential. A number of news sources that really should know better have been churning out and amplifying the same nonsense:

"FALMOUTH, England (Reuters) - Can robots be creative? British gallery owner Aidan Meller hopes to go some way towards answering that question with Ai-Da, who her makers say will be able to draw people from sight with a pencil in her bionic hand."

OK can robots be creative? Tell me what creative means and I might have an answer. Certainly drawing people from "sight" doesn't need creativity, it is a standard image processing or computer vision task. And what is a robot doing with a "bionic" hand!! It's so over the top that it would be funny if it wasn't for the consequences - bringing both art and AI into disrepute.

A first exhibition called "Unsecured Futures" is scheduled for May. Interestingly, in the exhibition's notes there is a very honest presentation of what Ai-Da is actually all about:

"Ai-Da is a mechanical robot, she is not real and has no thoughts and feelings, but she foretells a period when trans-human biotechnology could be possible."

If only the surrounding hype were as reasonable. For example, this is a recent tweet:


Or take a look at this video:


If it is possible to convince enough people that what this computer vision system produces really is creative art then presumably people will want to buy it. It is not that they might want to buy it that is worrying, but that they are buying it for all the wrong reasons.

It may be worth building a system like this one - it is a good exercise in engineering -  but it is all too easy to sell the idea that the puppet has a soul.


More Information

The new Picasso? Meet Ai-Da the robot artist

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