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Ai-DaVia Instagram/@aidarobot

Robot artist Ai-Da falls asleep while addressing the House of Lords

The groundbreaking humanoid was supposed to be educating a parliamentary committee on the rise of AI, but first they had to turn her off and on again

Earlier this year, gallery director Aidan Meller told Dazed that the dominance of AI artists – like Ai-Da, the robot he created – is only a matter of time. In the future, he suggested, AI’s hold over the creative industries means that the success of future artists will depend on “embracing the change rather than resisting it”. Now, the robot herself has taken this message to the House of Lords – right after Meller switched her off and on again.

Yes, the “world’s first ultra-realistic humanoid robot artist” has addressed a parliamentary committee, marking a historic first, and the first thing she did was crash. However, after a quick reboot – which involved Meller popping some sunglasses on her silicone nose, because apparently she makes some “interesting faces” when she’s being reset – she was back in business and ready to tell the Lords communications and digital committee everything it wanted to know about the rise of AI.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Ai-Da is essentially a bionic skeleton with cameras for eyes, eerily lifelike skin and hair, and an innovative robotic arm for painting directly from life. In April, she opened her first exhibition in Venice, to coincide with the Venice Biennale. She’s also had shows in Egypt (where she was detained on suspicion of being a spy), London’s Design Museum, and her hometown of Oxford.

Obviously, Ai-Da delivering a lecture on the future of AI art isn’t the most impressive thing she’s demonstrated over the course of her “career”. Even if it was conducted using her complex language model, questions from politicians were screened beforehand to ensure half-decent answers, and she didn’t always seem in control of her own bodily functions (although maybe that makes her right at home in the House of Lords).

Even more embarrassing than Ai-Da shutting down mid-conversation, though, were the committee members themselves – from the Bishop of Worcester to the 70-year-old Baroness Featherstone – who earnestly questioned the robot in a desperate bid to show they’re keeping up with the times.

In one video posted to the robot’s official Instagram, a member simply greets Ai-Da, and smiles awkwardly for a few seconds, not knowing where to look while she awaits the robot’s reply: “Hello there.” Other members probed how Ai-Da produces art, and how it differs from a human’s, and members looked on, nodding – either admiring her, or completely perplexed – as she walked them through what we already know about her inner workings.

Did Ai-Da say anything particularly groundbreaking? Not really, although Featherstone claimed she was “partly terrified” by how sophisticated technology had become. Then again, maybe Featherstone was just fearing for her job. If Ai-Da ever wanted to steer away from art into a career in politics, she’s already got the vague non-answers down to a fine art. Asked about the impact of AI on the creative industries, the robot artist came up with a perfectly ambiguous response, concluding: “Technology can be both a threat and an opportunity for artists.” Asked by the committee about her predictions for the future, she simply replied: “There is no clear answer.”

There was one moment that summed up the gravity of AI’s intrusion into our art and politics, though. “This feeds into all the films about AI taking over the world,” said Featherstone, when confronted with the size of the dataset that Ai-Da can use to create art (it could basically span the whole internet), and the fact that Meller sees working with the robot as a collaboration, more than an act of high-tech puppetry. Faced with our existing politicians, though, maybe it is time to give an AI dictatorship a try. Could we even tell the difference?