Advanced AI Robot Speaks to the British House of Lords

Advanced AI Robot Speaks to the British House of Lords


Members of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom became part of history this week when they listened to evidence from a robot with powerful artificial intelligence. “Ai-Da,” who creator Aiden Meller named after the mathematician Ade Lovelace, spoke to a House of Lords committee during its inquiry into the future of the creative industries in the United Kingdom.

Work on the Ai-Da was completed in 2019, a collaboration between Aiden Miller, Cornish company Engineering Arts, and the University of Leeds, the latter responsible for developing the robotic arm. The aim was to create the world’s first ultra-realistic humanoid artist, and it is fair to say the teams achieved their goals. Ai-Da gathers information via cameras in its eyes before using complex algorithms and AI processes to create artwork via its robotic arms. The machine’s owners upgraded the robotic arm this year, and Ai-Da can now paint pictures using a palette.

The use of AI for interacting with humans is something millions of people do every day. Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri are hugely popular. Many businesses use AI to operate their telephone switchboards, while some of the sites listed at use artificial intelligence to power their chatbots if a customer has a basic query. However, Ai-Da speaking to the House of Lords was a groundbreaking occasion.

Speaking to the House of Lords, But Not Without Issues

Members of the Lords communications and digital committee submitted questions for Ai-Da in advance so that they would receive a quality response. Ai-Da can communicate on the fly, but her primary role is to create works of art, which she does impeccably well. However, some of Ai-Da’s complex algorithms worked better than others when addressing the House of Lords.

Crossbench peer Debroah Bull asked Ai-Da how it produces art. Ai-Da explained, “I produce my painting by cameras in my eyes, my AI algorithms, and AI robotic arm to paint on canvas, which result in visually appealing images from my poetry using neutral [sic] networks.” Ai-Da clear as day pronounced the misspelled word “neural.”

A question posed by Liberal Democrat peer Lynne Featherstone ultimately resulted in Ai-Da briefly shutting down. After a quick reboot, Ai-Da answered Baroness Featherstone’s question in full.

“The role of technology in creating art will continue to grow as artists find new ways to use technologies to express themselves and reflect and explore the relationship between technology, society, and culture.”

Ai-Da Hit the Headlines in October 2021

Ai-Da’s development, release, and subsequent updates have been well-documented in the British press and artificial intelligence publications. People genuinely want to learn about the robot’s ability to produce incredible, often awe-inspiring artworks, including the world’s first self-portrait with no self. However, Ai-Da hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in October 2021, when Egyptian authorities detained it at customs.

Creator Aidan Meller traveled to Egypt with Ai-Da, where they were billed to be part of the first contemporary art exhibition at the Great Pyramids for 4,500 years. A clay sculpture interpreting the Greek riddle of the sphinx was due to be shown. Both the statue and Ai-Da were sent to Egypt by air in specialized flight cases, but Egyptian customs officers seized the robot upon its arrival.

Officials held the robot under lock and key for a period of 10 days because they feared it housed covert spy tools. Later, they discovered the robot’s eyes contained cameras. They were worried Ai-Da’s modem would transmit data to an unknown source. Meller informed the border guards he could remove the modem but would be unable to remove Ai-Da’s camera-housing eyes.

With assistance from the British Embassy in Cairo, Ai-Da was released, although it was too late for Meller and his team to prepare it to talk about its sculpture.

Advanced AI Robot Speaks to the British House of Lords